On a pleasant Saturday evening in Madison, the Wisconsin Badgers improved their record on the season to 3-3 overall after outlasting a game Army squad, 20-14. While the weather was nice, the game itself was a slog. Both teams ran a bunch and didn’t gain too many yards while doing it and both defenses were usually just too good.
All of the BTN “media timeouts” that they needed to fit in because both teams held on to the ball for so long were also annoying. It didn’t make for great viewing, but we’ll take a win over a loss any day of the week.
Let’s take a look at three things that stood out from Saturday night’s game.
The inside linebackers for UW are really, really good
I know this isn’t a shock or anything, but Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn played so well on Saturday night. Facing a triple-option team is probably a linebacker’s dream scenario since they mostly just get to run downhill and try and plaster ball carriers. Chenal and Sanborn certainly lived out that fantasy against Army. Here are the stats:
- Sanborn: 12 tackles (eight solo), one onside kick recovered to ice game, one eight yard rush on fake punt to get first down
- Chenal: 17 tackles (eight solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble
Chenal, even though he did get one offsides penalty, was doing a wonderful job of timing the snap and shooting through the A-gap to disrupt Army’s timing on a number of their option plays. His sack of Jabari Laws was the biggest play of the game and he was, quite frankly, everywhere on the field on Saturday.
Sanborn was everywhere on the field in a bit of a different way. He had two monster special teams plays that helped Wisconsin to the win: recovering the onside kick after Army scored to make it a six point game and rumbling with a fake punt eight yards for a first down to keep a drive alive that ended up with a Graham Mertz rushing touchdown.
In a game that lacked a lot of standout plays and performances, these two were impossible to miss.
The playcalling was...a mixed bag
I found myself trying to note positive plays that I liked on Saturday night, and I found a few! Mertz’s first rushing touchdown was a really good play call, design and execution.
There was also a play a little over halfway through the fourth quarter where Mertz found Kendric Pryor to the left for an easy pitch and catch that gained 10 yards and, honestly, seemed like the type of play Wisconsin should be running regularly to build up Mertz’s confidence.
However, there were also some baffling decisions made by the coaching staff. For instance, Braelon Allen didn’t receive a carry in the third quarter despite being the best running back in the first half. There was also a Pryor jet sweep where it looked like he lined up too deep and telegraphed the play, which Army stopped for a three-yard loss.
Overall, it seems like there is an ever so slight uptick in trust for the offense, but still nowhere near where it needs to be for the team to run a full complement of plays. The offensive line isn’t where it needs to be and neither is Mertz so there is a lot of talent at the skill positions languishing on the vine.
Hey, the Badgers forced a turnover on Saturday! It was a big one too, as the fumble forced by Chenal immediately led to points on the next play. That’s great, especially since Army doesn’t turn the ball over often.
On the other side of the turnover coin, however, is the Wisconsin offense. Mertz lost another fumble, this one on Wisconsin’s opening drive which gave the Black Knights good field position, and if you weren’t already at DEFCON 1 about his ball security you certainly should be after this game. Mertz also nearly threw another interception that the Army defender just happened to drop.
Wisconsin came in with the worst turnover margin in the country. #Badgers proceed to fumble on their opening drive.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 17, 2021
Allen also fumbled on a rushing attempt, but was fortunate enough for it to bounce right back to his chest as he was being tackled to ground. Not taking care of the ball is a troubling trend, and one that has already caused them to lose games, and it needs to get better or Wisconsin will struggled to finish with a winning record this season.
Turnovers are mostly about luck (stares directly at Iowa) but there are things that can be done to limit them, like holding onto the ball closer to your body or not making decisions to throw into triple coverage and things of that nature. I’m sure this is something that is harped on in practice during the week but, unfortunately, it seems like it’s going to be a problem all season.