There was a lot of good stuff to talk about in Wisconsin’s shutout victory over Illinois, so let’s get right to what J.J., Bremen and Rock had to say.
Hey! That was a good game for the Badgers! Let’s keep the positive vibes going and start off with our game balls. Give me one player on offense and one player on defense who deserve ‘em.
J.J.: My offensive game ball goes to the offensive line. Two rushers breaking the century barrier is always a win, and the offensive line had a really nice game today, just bowling over the Illinois run defense and pass rush. There were some hurries on Graham Mertz, but he wasn’t sacked once and I think that should serve as a nice stepping stone for this unit to build on as they prepare to take on some harder defensive fronts.
For defense, I’ll choose Nick Herbig. He continued a really nice season on Saturday, making his presence felt in the backfield consistently. If this Badgers team wants to keep winning games down the line, they’re going to need to keep quarterbacks on their toes in the pocket- and Herbig has been, was last night, and will be a constant factor on that front.
Bremen: Offensive game ball is split between the two running backs, Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen. It’s the first time two Wisconsin running backs went over 100 yards in a couple of years and both got touchdowns while gobbling up yards. It was really nice to sit and watch a Badgers running attack that looked like what you expect from a “Badgers Running Attack.”
On defense, I think it also has to go to Herbig. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was everywhere in the backfield and looked really good on the pass rush, getting half a sack and getting a lot of hits on the quarterback. The Badgers’ pass rush had to be better this year, and so far they have been with Herbig helping lead the way.
Rock: I agree with J.J., this maligned offensive line showed up against Illinois. 391 yards rushing looks awesome, but what’s even better is how rarely either Mellusi or Allen got minimal yards, setting up a second and eight or a third and six and making the offense pass. The offensive line paved the way and made the game pretty easy for everyone else.
Defensively, I’ll break up the Herbig lovefest and say Noah Burks, who also got in the backfield and led the team in tackles.
What did you think about the re-worked offensive line with Tanor Bortolini subbed in for an injured Logan Bruss?
J.J.: Well, it worked, obviously. There’s probably a fair question to be asked whether the Badgers success in the trenches was due to the line shift or the fact that they played an Illinois defensive front that was far weaker than Michigan or Notre Dame, but regardless, you can only beat what’s in front of you. And that’s what the line did today. The apocalypse is not coming- Wisconsin is still, at minimum, one of the better teams in the Big Ten West down low on the line.
Bremen: As said before, Mellusi and Allen gobbled up yards. That was because they finally had room to run. The first contact was coming not at the line of scrimmage because the UW offensive line finally created huge holes for them. There were still some QB hurries on Graham Mertz, but he had a lot more time today with no sacks given up. I think Bortolini needs to keep starting, and there should never be the weird rotation stuff. Maybe it’s just that Illinois sucks, but it was nice to watch a competent offensive line again.
Wisconsin's offensive line beating up on an inferior defense...? pic.twitter.com/4NvubAj4lt— BOOky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 9, 2021
Rock: It was nice to see consistent production from the group. Against Penn State, it felt like each drive the line would either pass block or run block well. Eastern Michigan had a goal line stand early, which should never happen. Here, they were able to let the running backs get to the second level and give Mertz time. That should continue against an undersized Army defense, so hopefully they can keep that momentum going into the rest of conference play afterwards.
With Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen both cooking in the backfield, how would you like to see the carries divided moving forward? Was the balance against Illinois (Mellusi 21, Allen 18) good or should UW ride the hot hand?
J.J.: I’m generally a committee back system advocate, because I think its inherent strengths (being able to show defenses different looks any given down) outweigh its inherent weaknesses (limiting a potential bell cow back).
But this Wisconsin team is a bit of a unique case because Chryst isn’t trying to bolster the collective production of two or three mediocre backs, but rather maximize the talent of two very good ones. I think it could work as a more watered-down system. Mellusi has been impressive this season, and should be on the field to start most drives, but he’s also not Jonathan Taylor or Montee Ball.
It’s never going to make the team distinctly worse to inject a second back like Braelon Allen’s speed and strength into the game against tired legs, and probably will make the team distinctly better in certain situations. I think there should probably be a 70/30 type split between the two. Also, since this is a mandatory question at this stage, what happened to Jalen Berger? (Editor’s note: while editing, news broke that Berger has been dismissed from the team.)
Bremen: Running back coach Gary Brown had said he will ride the hot hand, but I think this mix today was the platonic ideal. Mellusi is clearly not just a “change of pace” back — his touchdown where he ran over an Illinois defender I think crossed out that line — but he has more of the shiftiness than Allen. Everyone loves a kind of “thunder and lightning duo,” and I think Wisconsin found that. While there is a big story about Berger’s situation, I hope that doesn’t overshadow that Allen earned every single yard, and he has an exciting future.
Rock: Mellusi should be the primary back between the 20’s. He’s able to be the featured back, and can catch a pass on third down if needed. Braelon Allen runs forward between the tackles very well, which as a freshman is something you can build on. He can have his own drives, and come in for short yardage situations, but he’s not quite ready for the spotlight. Or to be able to vote. If you can’t vote but can take snaps in a Big Ten backfield, you’re ahead of the curve.
UW had 10 pass breakups on the game but also one million pass interference (don’t fact check this) penalties. Are you ok with the aggression, even if there are some drive extending penalties, when it leads to Illinois only throwing for 67 yards?
J.J.: If there was a team to play ball hawk maniac against, it was Illinois. Their quarterbacks, no matter who was under center, have been generating interceptions all year. It’s hard to fault Wisconsin for wanting in on that action. But I would be wary of keeping it up against a team like, say, Iowa, that has the methodical offense to take advantage of any free penalty yards a team gives them.
Bremen: I think the more frustrating thing to watch and see was the fact that even with those 10 pass breakups, there were no interceptions. UW’s defense got their hands on a lot of catchable balls, yet there was no turning point turnover. That didn’t matter against the Illini, but they will rue those chances against a team like, say, I don’t know, Iowa.
I also like the aggressive corner play, and also think you can do that when Illinois’ quarterback is gonna miss most of their throws.
Rock: Do you know how you get pass interference penalties? Being close enough to the receiver to be able to interfere. If you’re nowhere near him, you will not draw a flag. You’ll just be the guy the analyst in the booth circles when describing the blown coverage that led to the touchdown. Nobody likes penalties, but at least it indicates a semblance of coverage.
How sweet was it to shutout Bret Bielema?
J.J.: ::Bill Belichick voice:: A shutout is a shutout. We’re onto Army.
Bremen: He looked really really mad for much of the day when they showed him on the sidelines. I also think it’s funny now that Arkansas hired a different big, annoying dude and he has actually helped make that program much better, instead of going, like, 7-6 and being loud. Thanks for the memories Bert, but it was very nice to make Illinois look like a program that has to celebrate whatever a “Red Grange” is as their best player.
Rock: Goose eggs on the scoreboards are sexy, but you know what I like to see? A drive chart that shows Illinois staying on their side of the field for 50 minutes. They were thrown into a crock pot for the entire game. Watching Wisconsin lumber down the field gave Bielema extra time to realize the massive gap between What He Used To Coach and What He Coaches Now.
Looking ahead to next week quickly, how many yards does triple-option Army rush for against this Badgers defense?
J.J.: Well, realistically, probably a lot. The triple option always presents something of an inherent shock for opposing defenses, since it’s so unlike anything they’ve faced all season. And I don’t think Wisconsin’s defense is necessarily built to stop the triple option either. Having linebackers like Herbig and Jack Sanborn will always help, but I still think the Badgers are generally geared to be a very smash mouth, beat you through the middle team, on both offense and defense.
The option is going to try to hit the edge often and quickly, so any penetration the defensive line can get is going to need to happen extremely fast and the linebackers are going to need to play a big role helping out. On the bright side, I’ll be there for the game, so Wisconsin will have that advantage. And if the Badgers ever want to borrow players from the Daily Cardinal’s dominant defense, they know where our phone number is.
Bremen: Obviously facing a triple-option attack is a different beast than other offenses. Coaches and experts talk about how they have to prep for that offense all throughout the season, and it can be an extremely frustrating offense to go up against. That being said, I would be shocked if UW gives up over 100 rushing yards against the Black Knights. The push they get up front and the disciplined tackling really is clear when you watch the rushing defense. Army will probably get around 80-90 yards, just because they will be doing it all day.
Rock: If you’re a defensive player, you are not looking forward to this week. Taking cut blocks at your knees to prepare for an offense built on fooling you is a nightmare. They’ll aggressively go for it on fourth down as well. They’re averaging about 320 rushing yards a game, but I’ll say between the Badgers defense and their own rushing attack that’ll dip to about 255 next week.