After a late night of watching the Badgers beat Army and Tennessee fans having an absolute meltdown during their loss to Ole Miss, we have some thoughts on what Wisconsin did (or didn’t) do on Saturday evening.
Tyler, Ryan, and J.J. got together on Sunday to discuss Graham Mertz’s running ability, what a game against Army actually tells you about your team and whether or not the Badgers can still win a wide open Big Ten West. Read on, friends!
Is there any grand, overarching thing to take away from this game or is playing a team like Army with their triple-option offense just a one-off thing where your team just tries to leave with a win?
Ryan: A bit of both. Preparation for Army is unlike preparation for any other team, so it obviously forced them to think and work in different ways, which I think could help them moving forward. They also had to rotate a lot of guys in to keep the defense fresh, so more guys got opportunities that they normally wouldn’t.
J.J.: Saying both as well. The defense did well to contain an Army offense that offers a lot of unique challenges, which I think can say as much as you want it to say. You could argue it’s a major positive that the team prepared so well or that the preparation is now a moot point because Wisconsin won’t be playing a team like Army again.
Tyler: I think it’s a bit of both. I didn’t love the way the offense executed at all but that isn’t anything new. At this point that’s what this team is. This was a weird game to get ready for and they escaped with a win which is great, but it certainly could have gone better.
Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn were obviously amazing on Saturday night. Who else stood out to you on defense?
Ryan: C.J. Goetz played really well, moving from linebacker back to the defensive line. He was constantly getting pressure and racked up seven tackles on the night.
J.J.: Goetz was a constant presence in the backfield and showed some solid versatility playing on multiple levels of the defense. Jim Leonhard’s gotta love a guy he can move around and get the same level of performance from regardless.
Tyler: Scott Nelson had a really good showing. His ability to come down defensively and help with the run is huge for the defensive group. We expected Sanborn and Chenal to eat, but Nelson was huge. Goetz also looked really solid.
Graham Mertz wasn’t electric in terms of throwing the ball, but he looked good running the ball. Do you want to see more QB rushing moving forward?
Ryan: I think more designed plays like his bootleg score may be a good option if the opposition is stacking the box at the goal line. It just adds another wrinkle to the offense and if it’s effective, why not go to it again?
J.J.: I don’t want to see more of it than I saw Saturday night. I think it was used nicely as a change of pace, occasionally letting Mertz take off only works so effectively because it only really happens sparingly. I’d save it for a play like the second touchdown, where Mertz was rolling out and then just running on a designed play fooled and surprised everyone.
Tyler: I think it’s a nice ability to have but I wouldn’t say I want to see more of it. I want to see more completed throws. I mean only eight completed passes is just absurd. The fact that Wisconsin couldn’t hit more passes against a triple option team’s secondary is concerning but, again, nothing all that new.
What were your thoughts on the offensive line? Did they do a good enough job against Army’s undersized front seven?
Ryan: I think they could have done a lot better. Mertz still didn’t have a whole lot of time to throw when they did drop back to pass and their 198 rushing yards were a bit less than expected. They need to get more movement on the line, especially moving forward, with nothing by West division opponents on the way.
J.J.: They did reasonably well I’d say. Army isn’t Illinois, UW wasn’t ever going to dominate, but there were definitely a few drives with repeated 5-6 yard runs that had everyone wondering “why can’t we replicate this all the time?”
Tyler: Every week is different for this group. You would think they’d be able to lean on a smaller front but Army statistically has been pretty solid against the run. No excuse for not executing, but still.
With Iowa’s loss to Purdue, Wisconsin controls their own destiny in the Big Ten West. Where do you see them finishing in the division?
Ryan: It’s a real crapshoot. I think against worse teams Wisconsin can impose its will well, which makes me think that they can potentially win out, with a little luck against Iowa, but they also have points of stagnation on offense and doing that the rest of the way will not bode well for them. I usually like to err on the side of optimism, so I will say they will win the B1G West, because this team has to be better than what they have shown this season. Right?
J.J.: I still think Wisconsin CAN beat Iowa, though I obviously doubt they will. I think that game will be pretty important to the direction of the season afterwards. A win against Hawkeyes to put the Badgers in poll position to win the West would obviously give the team a great deal of momentum heading into the closing stretch. A loss or uninspiring win vs. Purdue and then a slow beat down at the hands of Iowa could mean this team enters a bit of a tailspin with an early December bowl game being the only thing left to play for.
Tyler: I could see Wisconsin winning it or finishing sixth, and I could say that for a lot of teams. Honestly, I have no idea. This Big Ten West might be one of the worst power five divisions of all time, but hey, someone is going to have to win it!