You probably are just waking up and wondering “was that all just a bad dream?” or “there is no way Wisconsin turned the ball over five (!!!!!) times against Northwestern, right?” but sadly, friends, Wisconsin’s 17-7 loss to the Wildcats was very, soul-crushingly real.
Shortly after the game, Ryan, Neal, Bremen and J.J. convened virtually to let out their frustrations and maybe, hopefully, find a silver lining or two from Wisconsin’s biannual disaster trip to Evanston.
What does Graham Mertz need to do to improve before next weekend’s game?
Ryan: Taking care of the ball needs to be his number one priority. Not having his top two receivers really exploited the offense and play calling hurt Mertz & Co. The offense was very diverse last week and seemed very mundane today. I think once he gets Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor back, the offense will be able to open up more and Mertz will be more comfortable.
Neal: This was his first test of a legitimate college defense so some level of struggling is to be expected. Taking care of the ball has to be a focus. It’s clear the depth of talent on offense is limited, and the Badgers margin for error is razor thin.
Bremen: He needs to take more deep breaths and have his normal wide receivers back. He missed a lot of throws today, granted, but I think that not having Pryor or Davis put him in a much worse position on the perimeter. Missing them meant he had to rely on Adam Krumholz and Jack Dunn, who I personally — as a Badger fan — believe should not be receivers number one or two at all. Not having players he is comfortable with probably made it much worse on offense than it would have been otherwise, and it’s hard to control those types of injuries.
J.J.: Mertz was obviously at a particular disadvantage today being without his two top receivers, and faced a tough task in a Northwestern defense that is among the nation’s best, but I do think he’ll need to take care of the ball better next week if he wants to improve. As mentioned by Bremen earlier, he’s just got to take some deep breaths, collect himself, and get back to that groove he was in at the start of the season.
Should Jalen Berger be the starting running back next weekend against Minnesota?
Ryan: Yes. I like Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek, but there is just something about Berger running the ball right now, vs. them running the ball. Watson and Groshek appear to bide their time more when running the ball, they wait for things to open for them. While Berger makes things happen, he runs with conviction and when he carries the ball, he just looks so smooth, like he’s been in this offense for years. I think had he seen more carries today, we would have seen a different result.
Neal: Berger was the lone bright spot on offense. He did something positive nearly every time he touched the ball even if the blocking was iffy. At this point any carry that goes to someone other than Berger is a win for opposing defenses. Needless to say he needs more opportunities.
Bremen: Considering that when Wisconsin decided to run, it was mostly in Berger’s hands, I would say he should be the starter. I am all for seniority in certain times, but when the announcers are agreeing that Berger is the man, then he should be the man.
J.J.: I’d say so. When Berger got the ball today, he was making things happen. In an offense that struggled to get first downs for much of the game, the fact that he was reliable for, at minimum, several chunk yardage runs is critical. One of my favorite parts of Berger’s game is he’s always up for that final push, the final dive forward to gain a few more yards. These yards were at a premium today, and will continue to be at a premium for big games in the future.
How much money would you, personally, pay to never have to play at Ryan Field again?
Ryan: GREAT name for a stadium, absolutely amazing name. I don’t think I could say enough about the name. That being said, take it all. That place is a hellscape and I never want to see the cardinal and white there, ever again.
Neal: Empty all my bank accounts. As Owen Reise polled on Twitter, I would rather play Bama on short week than travel to Ryan Field.
Bremen: So, I am barely employed, but I would give a surprising amount of my salary to never play there again. It is literally insane to expect five turnovers most places, but literally the five turnovers in Evanston feel rude, and I would give literally almost anything to have that never happen again. Especially, considering that that team will lose by at least 30 by Ohio State. Wisconsin might lose, but it wouldn’t be by 30.
J.J.: I’m a delivery boy who occasionally stands in as a cashier at a local mini-golf place. Needless to say, I would not be able to muster a very enticing monetary offer to the scheduling powers-at-be to save the Badgers from playing in Evanston. However, the second someone can find or create a credible donation page to fund the bulldozing of Ryan Field into a parking lot I will happily empty my savings to help make it happen.
Who were your MVPs for the Badgers? You can pick two players on defense if you’d like since the offense was, well, terrible.
Ryan: If I am giving out game balls, I am giving one to Berger and the other to the defense. The offense put the defense in terrible spots the entire game, turning the ball over in its own territory, giving Northwestern a short field and they still held them to under 300 total yards (24 rushing) and 17 points. Not to mention the trouble they had with officiating…I think if Northwestern is playing anyone else, they would have scored a lot more points.
Neal: The entire front seven on defense was outstanding. Holding Northwestern to 24 rush yards and 2-of-15 on third down attempts would normally be more than enough for a win, but you know Ryan Field voodoo magic and all that.
Bremen: Unfortunately, I have to say Jalen Berger. The reason I say unfortunately is that the play calling almost didn’t trust him. Berger led the Badgers in rushing with 93 yards and 6.3 yard per carry, but yet he still seemed under utilized in this game. Granted, Wisconsin might have learned just prior to kickoff that their top two receivers were out, but it seems like not rocket science to give the star runner — at a time when UW needed literally any yards — the ball a couple more times. Then again, I’m not paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to call plays.
J.J.: Berger on offense, partially by default, and partially because he did legitimately play a very good game. I’d also say the defensive line earned a game ball as well (though the entire defense has a solid argument here). They really clamped down hard on both shutting down the run and putting pressure on Ramsey, and the 17 points allowed certainly should not be seen as a reflection of a game lost by the defense.
Do you have any silver linings from this game?
Ryan: The youth on offense. While he got very few opportunities, I thought he made the most of them and I thought Chimere Dike looked impressive. Not to mention, Berger. He looked like a seasoned vet going against a tough opponent, in a tough place to play. Knowing that these guys are true freshmen, makes me hopeful for the future. I would have liked to see more opportunities given to Hayden Rucci and Stephan Bracey, but their time will come. Also, the defense. Like I said before, they played one hell of a game and they were short-handed as well, which makes it all the more impressive.
Neal: This was a weird game in a weird year, so not sure what lessons can be gleaned. The defense is legit and probably Big Ten title caliber worthy. Offensively getting young, talented guys like Mertz, Berger and Chimere Dike some experience for next several seasons is always good.
Bremen: The one silver lining is the rush defense. With a lot of defensive lineman out, the defense was still able to stuff Northwestern on virtually every run. It is frustrating to know the rush never got to the passing game, but the run defense did not blink in this awful game.
J.J.: Chimere Dike continues to look like a player that will only get better as his role increases, be it this year or the next. I also think that this was the sort of game that Mertz would have to experience eventually- a frustrating performance against a stellar and well-prepared defense. Obviously the loss is disappointing, but he’s now been through it, and I would in the grand scheme of things rather have his first taste of such a game be in the regular season than perhaps a bowl game. One final silver lining is though there was a pretty clear loss of talent reflected in the scoreline, the Badgers relied heavily on youth on both sides of the ball today and all the untested players who had to step up didn’t look out of place at all against a very tough opponent.