There’s no real need for a flowery introduction to this post. The Wisconsin Badgers got pounded by the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday afternoon and it was unenjoyable from start to finish. We virtually convened to discuss it. Here are the thoughts from Tyler, J.J., Bob and Ryan.
Let’s start positively! Who is an unexpected player that impressed you this season with their play? Please don’t all say Nick Herbig.
Tyler: Jalen Berger has been excellent. If only he got more than 15 carries a game! Herbig has been great as well. Scott Nelson has bounced back really well too. One guy under the radar has been C.J. Goetz. I didn’t expect to see him much and he’s been solid when he’s been out there.
J.J.: Berger looks like a future Doak Walker Award contender when he actually gets the ball. Super impressed that he emerged as the best back as a true freshman out of what conventionally appeared to be a committee system.
Ryan: I am fully on the Jalen Berger hype train. I knew he could have an implant this season, but I didn’t expect him to be as talented as he has been. Scott Nelson has also been impressive in his return to injury and has shown a good nose for the ball.
Bob: Wisconsin has called on punter Andy Vujnovich quite a bit in the last few weeks. And ohhhhh boy, if punting can win you a game, the Badgers would have beaten Northwestern, Indiana, and Iowa. It’s nice seeing a good punt to help mitigate the fury of giving away possession.
Ok, that’s enough positivity. What the hell was that yesterday?!? How did the Badgers find themselves in a position where Jack Dunn was their leading receiver and Brady Schipper received a carry in a conference game?
Tyler:. Injuries have hampered and Covid has made it hard. Fine, fair enough. But why not play the youth then? I don’t know what Julius Davis has to do to get in the game but handing the ball to a converted safety over him seems like a bad look. Maybe there is more to it but man that seems odd. Why not just throw young guys in there and see what you have? I mean look at what Devin Chandler brought out. No offense to Jack Dunn but if you’re playing for the future he isn’t going to be in the picture that much longer.
J.J.: I think it suffices to say this season was a train wreck on more than a few fronts. Injuries took out, if we’re speaking honestly, the only proven, dynamic receivers in Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis, leaving Graham Mertz without much deep weaponry spare a raw Chimere Dike. COVID has ravaged the team throughout the year, the most recent loss being Berger, and it’s not unreasonable to link a drop off in performance throughout the second half of the season to the physical effects of the disease, which Mertz noted took a toll on him.
Ryan: Wisconsin has been decimated by injuries/unavailable players this season. Missing Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor has hurt the offense and it doesn’t help that their depth at wide receiver isn’t great. I think they have a lot of talent at receiver, but it’s undeveloped at this time. Not having Jalen Berger also hurt, as he has been the only consistent runner they have had this season, in his limited appearances.
Bob: This season doesn’t feel particularly real, and I won’t acknowledge it as such. It’s like 2008 or 2012 minus the Big Ten Championship — these are seasons that won’t bother me when Wisconsin’s playing Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game in 2024. This was a perfectly good team with a great defense that ran into a series of terrible circumstances. I guess what’s frustrating is the play-calling seems to get more conservative when there is less confidence in the players on the field.
I think that is the opposite of what you want to do — if you’re at a disadvantage in personnel, you want to take more risks and catch lightning in a bottle. Watching the Badgers the last few weeks has been like watching a tortoise hiding in its shell. Close the book. Move on.
What would you like to see this offseason from Graham Mertz? What does he need to work on?
Tyler: He’s gotta work on his pocket awareness and accuracy. He missed a lot of easier targets yesterday. Just didn’t have it. Thankfully I think everything is an easy fix and COVID/injuries will hopefully not be a thing next fall. I’m not that worried about Mertz.
J.J.: I’m not a quarterback coach so I don’t know how much legitimate criticism I have, but for me, accuracy has to be the primary focus. Not only yesterday was he not hitting the harder passes, but he also missed some fairly simple ones as well. Obviously, we can chalk yesterday up as an off day but he certainly hasn’t been automatic from any range since the Illinois opener where the Badger receivers ran riot.
Ryan: Pocket presence would be a good place to start. Since playing more talented B1G defenses, he has looked rattled at times in the pocket and has forced a lot of passes. I also think developing a rapport with Wisconsin’s young receivers would help as they will be thrust into the spotlight next season with Wisconsin’s most experienced receivers; Dunn, Krumholz, Pryor and Davis all graduating
Bob: No clue. I hope he works hard during the off-season watching tape and figuring out what went wrong post-Michigan. I think these are the growing pains we expected and are natural for a first-year starter. It’s just a bit sad when there was some hope we’d skip right past that stage in development after Illinois.
Do any changes need to be made on the coaching staff for next season?
Tyler: Joe Rudolph needs to focus on the OL and recruiting. Those are the things he does well. In turn, the Joe Rudolph play calling experiment needs to be fired into the sun. It’s not working. It’s not just a 2020 thing either. His play-calling has been predictable and lackluster for years. You just had Jonathan Taylor to help make it look better in the last three seasons.
J.J.: In regards to the coaching staff itself I don’t think any actual turnover needs to be made, but having Rudolph call plays this year didn’t work. That needs to be a Chryst duty, at least for the immediate future.
Ryan: I don’t think any personnel changes need to happen, but play calling needs to be Chryst’s job next season.
Bob: I think Drew Hamm should be calling the plays next season. (Editor’s note: MORE AND MORE PEOPLE ARE SAYING THIS!) If not, then Chryst should be. I will be very concerned if that isn’t strongly considered.
Related to question four, does this season count as canon for you, or is it best to think of it as extended, competitive spring football against actual opponents?
Tyler: I have thought about it as extended spring since the Purdue game was scrapped. I think these reps for young guys will be huge down the road.
J.J.: My answer on the canonicity of this season remains hinged on the Playoff. If it’s Alabama/Clemson/ND/OSU, this season is fake and fraudulent. If we get to see Cincinnati, Texas A&M, or, please, a two-loss Iowa State team, then I’ll consider it being canon.
Ryan: I prefer to think of it as an extended spring. Wisconsin missed three games this season and has underperformed the last three games. It’s been a good opportunity to get Mertz’s feet wet.
Bob: Oops, I kind of answered this in a previous question. This was a non-canon spinoff show for sure. Kind of like the Star Wars Holiday Special. Yeah, it’s got all of your favorite characters and Boba Fett was introduced, but it was very simply an embarrassment we all want to forget.
Were there any MVPs for Wisconsin against Iowa?
Tyler: Adam Bay and Vuj only.
J.J.: Andy Vujnovich, and, as always, the end of first quarter wave tradition.
Ryan: I’m going with Andy Vujnovich. He has been a solid punter this season and an improvement over last season and that continued yesterday.
Bob: Vujnovich did everything he could to make a 3-2 loss to Iowa possible. Gotta be Vuj.