After a long and grueling season for both teams, Wisconsin and Wake Forest will square off in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on December 30th. Both teams come into the game with a .500 record and will be looking to end the season on a high note. Wake hasn’t played much football lately, losing two of their final four games on the field and the other two to COVID cancellations.
Wisconsin has struggled but righted the ship some by retaining Paul Bunyan’s Axe last time out. Here is what the Badgers will need to do to try and finish the season on a high note and build for 2021.
Wisconsin football has not always looked pretty this year but they’ve still managed to be the kings of time of possession again in 2020. The Badgers currently rank No. 1 in that category and that will be very important to sustain in this game for a multitude of reasons. First, Wake Forest’s defense is pretty bad.
The Demon Deacons rank No. 107 in total defense, No. 107 in passing defense and No. 90 in rushing defense. They don’t do anything on that side of the ball very well. If there were a game to really get the offense figuring some things out it would be against a bad defense like this.
The one thing this defense DOES do well is force turnovers. Wake Forest currently ranks No. 2 in turnover margin so they do a good job of turning the opponent over, but they also do a great job of hanging onto the ball themselves. Wake ranks No. 3 in turnovers lost so you can see how well their offense does in that phase.
With an explosive offense that hangs onto the ball, it will be important for Wisconsin to hang onto the football literally and figuratively to keep them off the field and keep the clock moving in this game. With freshman RB Jalen Berger possibly out for another game it could once again be the Garrett Groshek show as Wisconsin looks to burn the clock.
Aside from the Wake Forest defense, there is one other issue with Wake Forest...the offensive line. Quarterback Sam Hartman has had a good year throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns but he has been sacked 24 times in just eight games. In the few games I’ve seen on Wake, Hartman is running for his life often. The Deacs are giving up 3.25 sacks per contest which has been the killer for them offensively.
For Wisconsin, pressure has been the one knock in their defense as well. As it stands now the Badgers rank No. 96 in team sacks on the year. Currently, the Badgers are averaging just 1.67 sacks per game which is much lower than their average in 2019 of almost four sacks a game. Wisconsin needs to get that side of their defense right and again if there is a team to do it against it is this one. If you want to slow this Wake offense down you’ve got to not just get pressure but get the sack. They thrive on big passing plays, so pressure is the best way to nip it in the bud.
The last month and a half has been a struggle for Wake Forest schedule-wise as well. The Demon Deacons played November 14th against North Carolina, losing 59-53. The following week their game with Duke was canceled, and the week after that they had a very ugly loss to Louisville 45-21. A week later their game with Florida State was canceled as well. The Demon Deacons haven’t won a game since Halloween, and they’ve only played one game in the last month. That should be something Wisconsin should try to key on.
Wisconsin has had COVID issues as well in terms of cancellations but for them, it was at least early in the year. The Badgers have been playing, not all that well mind you, but game reps still count for something. Additionally, the win over Minnesota certainly helped make it feel like some things we’re solved for Wisconsin.
In Graham Mertz's final drive the offense started to click, and you hope with his return they can get back to that. If the Badgers can come out and put up points early it should allow them to build a little lead as the rust gets worked off for Wake. If they don’t and the Wake Forest offense gets humming the Badgers could be in a catch-up position, a place they haven’t had much success in this season.