Wisconsin football: Will business-minded Badgers have breakout November?
Can Wisconsin football win out? That’s the goal, but can it be done?
Success for the rest of the season will hinge on players’ leadership.
The Badgers need to put Paul Chryst’s firing in the rearview mirror and move forward.
“In a world of so much uncertainty, how can we bring certain(ty)?” said Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz.
“I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s kind of what it is. We step on this field every day for practice. How do we make it just about ball? As a leader on this team, that’s the challenge — blocking out the extra stuff and playing the game.”
If Wisconsin (4-4 overall, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) can get business done following an open date, the month of November will be a grand one.
The Badgers’ toughest meetings are home games sandwiched between a pair of what should be manageable road trips.
Wisconsin hosts Maryland at Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday, then travels to Iowa and Nebraska for back-to-back road games. The Badgers host Minnesota on Nov. 26 in their regular-season finale.
The Terrapins (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) are hopeful that starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa will be back after sitting 2 games with a knee injury. Like Wisconsin, Maryland had an open date.
The maturity of Mertz on and off the field will be critical in the final stretch.
Mertz needs to do a better job taking care of the ball. He didn’t throw a pick in the Purdue victory, which marked the 3rd game this season that Mertz hasn’t thrown an interception.
Mertz has a 159.3 passing efficiency, which ranks 21st among Football Bowl Series quarterbacks. He’s completed 118 of 187 passes for 1,624 yards, and thrown 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
The 5th-year senior has used a versatile attack on the ground and in the air. Mertz connected with 8 pass-catchers against Purdue.
It’s obvious that any team gets healthier during a period of rest, but Wisconsin players returning to action next weekend will take the team to a new level.
Outside linebacker Nick Herbig, who’s had 6 of the Badgers’ 14 sacks, was sidelined against Purdue with an unspecified injury. Herbig is expected to return against Maryland.
Other key players expected to be back are safety Hunter Wohler, who sustained a left leg injury in the opener against Illinois State, and tight end Hayden Rucci, who injured his right leg injury in the loss to Illinois.
One area that needs marked improvement is penalties.
In Big Ten games entering Oct. 29, the Badgers were ranked 13th in the league in penalties with 8.64 for 68.9 yards per game, while the Terrapins are 14th with 8.99 for 75.3 ypg.
Meanwhile, you’ll have to pardon Mertz for sounding like a college football coach.
Watching Chryst get fired probably flipped a switch in every Badgers player.
Especially a veteran who knew he would have to step into even more of a leadership role after Chryst was shown the exit door on Oct. 2.
When asked what the Badgers were like one day after Chryst was fired compared to the team’s identity following a 35-25 win against Purdue, Mertz offered a thoughtful response.
“It was a group of young men, but now it’s a group of men,” Mertz said. “You go through that and then you realize how much of a business it is. And you’ve got to realize that you’ve got to work like a business. You’ve got to go about your business every day with an intent.
“That’s why I’m so proud of this group — to see the growth from young men into men.”