The Wisconsin Badgers (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) have now won three games in a row after their 30-13 victory over the No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten). Leo Chenal was the best defensive player in the nation and running backs Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen were running through large holes provided by the offensive line to grind Purdue into dust.
Here is what Ryan, Belz and J.J. had to say about the win and a quick look ahead to next weekend’s showdown with the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes.
Graham Mertz didn’t have an impressive game statistically, but what were your thoughts on the plays called to try and get him some early momentum?
Ryan: I thought the coaching staff did a good job to get him some early opportunities to throw the ball. A couple of times the offensive line didn’t do the best job in giving him time, but I thought he did a good job in those instances not rushing throws and instead tucked the ball and ran it. You can tell he is starting to become more confident.
The screen pass to Ferguson was the perfect play call in that situation and downfield blocks were set up perfectly, for him to get enough yards to pick up the first down. It was another one of those games where he wasn’t really needed, which I think is good as it allows him to go through the motions, but I would like to see him get more opportunities, so that he can build on the limited success he is having, due to the limited opportunities.
Belz: I thought that the initial gameplan to get Mertz into a rhythm was great. He has been at his best all season long with short, easy throws, and that was on display early. I loved the fact that the offense got Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen involved in the passing game as well. It’s hard to take too much away from the eighth total pass attempts, but Mertz missed a golden opportunity on the deep ball to Pryor with the overthrow. Pryor had his guy beat by a couple steps and no safety help coming, Mertz just needs to give him a chance there. Overall, there is not much else to take away from a game like this where the passing game wasn’t really needed.
J.J.: I liked the first few sequences with Mertz. I felt they set a nice tempo and were key in setting the tone for what would eventually be a dominant day on the ground by establishing early on that Mertz still can hit enough simple quick routes to keep teams honest in the secondary.
Of course it wasn’t perfect, like Belz mentioned the overthrow was a big miss, but ultimately I felt the shorter passes and screen plays were generally executed quite well.
While the Badgers only lost two, they did fumble four times on the afternoon. Is there anything that you noticed that Wisconsin could do better to keep the ball off the turf?
Ryan: On Mertz’s fumble it looked like he held onto the ball, far too long. It was hard to tell what the coverage was like down the field while watching the game on tv, but it looked like the defender gotten to him a split second later, it would have been ruled an incomplete pass, as Mertz’s arm was starting to come forward. Allen’s fumble out of bounds could have been avoided had he put a second hand on the ball. If he can start to bring his second arm in when he senses contact, he should be able to keep the pigskin off the turf.
This was my reaction watching the sack-fumble live. After watching it again, talking with the players & now watching it again at home, it was unfair.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 24, 2021
Mertz had to hold it for the deeper routes to develop. Obviously, biggest issue is the blown assignment leading to a free rusher. https://t.co/IWf8hkSMQH
Belz: First off, the punt return issues are maddening at this point. Just put Danny Davis back there and call it a day. Where were we at...ah yes, Braelon Allen still gets a little too upright at times when taking on tacklers, which opens the ball up for defenders. Mellusi’s fumble was a case of him trying to do a little too much at the end of the play, which it is hard to fault him for.
Mertz and Brady Schipper need to be better at seeing the pressure as well. All of these things can be easily cleaned up, but with the Iowa turnover machine coming to Camp Randall next weekend, it better happen quickly.
J.J.: I think I’m in the camp that Mertz’s fumble wasn’t as bad as it initially looked as there really didn’t seem to be anything developing that wasn’t downfield, but the lack of awareness is still a slight issue. The two running back fumbles weren’t catastrophic either, in my view, Allen’s could probably chalked up to inexperience, and I won’t fault Mellusi too much for trying to make things happen.
But Iowa is the worst case scenario matchup for teams with turnover woes, so some things need to be tuned up (especially on the kick and punt return end) ASAP.
Besides Leo Chenal, who obviously was the MVP, who else on the defensive side of the ball stood out to you?
Ryan: Collin Wilder had a great game today, forcing two turnovers. The way he targeted the ball in Durham’s hands and then ripped it out was a thing of beauty. He also was in the right place at the right time on his interception. He has continually shown that he has a nose for the ball.
Belz: The entire secondary played really well, but I am going to go with Isaiah Mullens. He was only credited with one tackle, which was also a sack, but he was in on a ton of run stops. He strung out a Purdue trick play, and was the defensive lineman that really jumped out to me.
I think that the defensive line gets overshadowed at times because of how good the likes of Chenal, Sanborn, and Herbig are, but collectively they played a huge role in the defensive effort on Saturday.
J.J.: I agree with Ryan. Wilder was quite impressive to me today, the culmination of some really nice ballhawking traits he’s shown this season.
I feel like we shouldn’t say this too loud, but kicker Collin Larsh is quietly having himself a mighty fine season. Has he fully earned your trust?
Ryan: Totally, he’s only missed twice this year. One of them was blocked, while the other was a 50+ yard kick, and I think he has only missed one PAT, which was also blocked. My main concern over the last couple of seasons was his leg strength and I have heard that was one of his bigger focuses in the offseason, to improve his leg strength. In listening to him talk post-game about kicking over the last couple of years, he is smart as a whip and knows the ins and outs of kicking.
Belz: Yes. Read Drew’s article...
J.J.: Yeah! He’s not one of the country’s elite kickers, but he’s been a very reliable one, which is more than most teams usually get at the position. Missing a 50 yarder isn’t a realistic black mark to put on any normal college kicker’s resume, and aside from that miss he’s just had two blocked and has hit everything else. I’d take that ten times out of ten if you offered me that at the start of the season.
Purdue upset Iowa. Wisconsin smacked Purdue. What does next weekend have in store for us, the poor viewer, when Wisconsin and Iowa meet at Camp Randall?
Ryan: I honestly have no idea… college football is a gosh darn shit show to tell you the truth. Good teams are losing to worse teams…hell, Illinois beat Penn State in nine (!!!) overtimes. I think it will be close, but the end result will largely depend on which Wisconsin offensive line shows up. I think, had Iowa held Bell in check like Wisconsin did, Iowa/Purdue would have been a far different outcome.
Belz: A game that will be determined by turnovers. I honestly believe the game will be that simple. Both teams want to run the ball, but will probably struggle against the defenses. Both teams have passing offenses that are statistically near the bottom of the FBS. So, turnovers and field position will likely be the determining factor.
J.J.: Probably an Iowa win. I suspect the Purdue loss by Iowa was just a mirage and they’ll be motivated to prove their worth and start gearing up for a West title and a shot back into the playoff by beating the East champ.
They thrive off turnovers, which Wisconsin has been prone to. They’ve bullied some of the conference best quarterbacks, and no doubt will be licking their chops for a matchup against statistically, one of the Big Ten’s worst. But, huge pause, the Badgers will have the most momentum they’ve had all season with a comprehensive top twenty five (technically) road win under their belt, and it’s Halloweekend in Madison. Camp Randall will be a nut house. There are worse conditions to pull an upset in...