Wisconsin football: Report card after win over Northwestern
The Wisconsin Badgers put together another complete performance on Saturday afternoon as they overmatched Northwestern in all three phases in a 35-7 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. With a six-game winning streak, Wisconsin improved to 7-3 overall including 5-2 in Big Ten play, and the Badgers remained tied for the top spot in the B1G West.
With two more wins, Wisconsin would head back to Indianapolis to compete for a conference championship against whoever comes out of the East. Before we look ahead to next week’s game against Nebraska in Madison, let’s evaluate what we saw from the Badgers in Saturday’s win.
For the first half of the season, plenty of fans wondered what the Badgers would look like if they figured things out offensively. Well, we’re seeing that now. Wisconsin is getting better at moving the ball every week, both running and passing.
Quarterback Graham Mertz has played his two best games of the season in consecutive weeks. He was sharp on Saturday and came out hot, completing his first 9 passes of the game. Mertz finished 18 of 23 for 216 with 2 touchdowns, though he had a bad interception in the end zone late in the first half.
For the second week in a row, Mertz did a fantastic job at spreading the ball out to the Badgers’ four best pass catchers, which is what should happen for this passing game to be at its best. Danny Davis caught 3 passes for 46 yards with a touchdown, and Jake Ferguson added 43 yards on 4 receptions and scored. Chimere Dike caught 3 balls for 37 yards and Kendrick Pryor went for 30 yards on 2 receptions.
Mertz threw accurately on deeper routes that went for chunk plays throughout the game, and he’s looking better by the week after a brutal first month of the season.
A big part of the passing success is how well the Badgers have been running the ball with Braelon Allen. Chez Mellusi was ruled out for the season earlier in the week, so Allen received his largest workload of the season, and he took advantage of it with 173 yards on 25 attempts and 3 touchdowns.
Allen limped to the sideline on a few occasions, but it did not slow him down much. He became a significant part of the offense 6 games ago, and he has gone for more than 100 yards in every one of those contests.
One of the main questions heading into the game was what the running back usage would be without Mellusi, and it was almost exclusively the Allen show until his final carry, a 33-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Brady Schipper had 2 carries in the first half in addition to a 24-yard reception on a perfect pass from Mertz over the middle. Julius Davis did not touch the ball until the first drive of the fourth quarter, and it ended when he lost a fumble that went the other way for Northwestern’s lone touchdown. Jackson Acker replaced Julius Davis on the next drive, and his fumble gave the ball back to the Wildcats.
Julius Davis finished the game with 47 yards on 9 carries, Schipper carried the ball 7 times for 38 yards and Acker rushed for 10 yards on 3 attempts.
We’ll be seeing a lot of Allen assuming he is healthy enough to go.
Northwestern looked impressive on its first drive as the Wildcats marched right down the field using 7:43 of game time on 19 plays. But the possession ended when Caesar Williams intercepted Andrew Marty’s pass, the first of 4 turnovers forced by Wisconsin.
After allowing 82 yards on the first possession, the Badgers limited the Wildcats to minus-2 yards the rest of the first half.
Dean Engram and John Torchio intercepted passes in the third quarter and both led to Badgers touchdowns to give Wisconsin a 35-0 lead. Jordan Turner picked off a pass midway through the fourth quarter for the final turnover of the game. Wisconsin has forced 16 turnovers over its last four games after forcing just 4 in their first six contests.
The Badgers finished with 12 tackles for loss against NU. Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn remain the top inside linebacker duo in the country, and both had 3 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Wisconsin would’ve had a shutout if not for the touchdown the Badgers’ offense gave up on a fumble return. As a team, Wisconsin has allowed 4 touchdowns in the last four games, and only two were allowed by the defense as this unit’s dominant season continues.
Special Teams: B
Chimere Dike returned one kick for 22 yards. Danny Davis returned a short kickoff 4 yards and operated as the punt returner, though he had just one fair catch and cost Wisconsin a bit of field position by letting one bounce.
Collin Larsh made all 5 extra points, did not attempt a field goal and handled the kickoffs. The only issue on kick coverage came when Northwestern started a drive from its own 37-yard line to start the second half.
Andy Vujnovich punted 3 times for an average of 55 yards per punt with one touchback and one inside the 20 with a long of 68 yards. He is in good position to set a new school record for average punt yardage in a single season. Conor Schlichting punted once for 25 yards that was fair caught inside the 20-yard line.