After a dominant win over the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin Badgers (5-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) sit atop a tie for second place in the Big Ten West division.
The Badgers played dominating defense and competent, mistake-free offense in bludgeoning the Hawkeyes into the dirt. After another big win, our writers had a lot to say about the game. Here are J.J., Ryan, Tyler and Bremen’s thoughts on Leo Chenal, the Big Ten West and Graham Mertz’s passing!
Does Leo Chenal, who missed the first two games of the season, have a legit chance at being named an All-American this year?
Tyler: I think it would be crazy not to think so. When he’s been out there he’s put up major numbers. I expected him to be much better this year but did not expect him to be THIS much better. Yes, he’s an All-American.
Bremen: If you watch a Badger game, you see number five on defense and say “holy crap” every couple plays or so. I watched the cocktail party between Florida and Georgia afterwards, and said the same about Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean — both players who are seen as first round NFL draft picks or so. Opposing defenses have to gameplan specifically against Chenal, and his performances against Army and Purdue highlighted just how much he affects the game. He’s an All-American.
J.J.: This defense is elite-tier and is finally starting to be appreciated as such, and Chenal is a centerpiece. Obviously with Georgia’s defense (deservedly) getting more attention than perhaps any defense in modern college football history he’s got some serious competition and an uphill battle having missed the first two games. But he absolutely should be in the conversation at minimum.
Ryan: Yes, absolutely. At least he should. He completely takes over every game he plays in and averages just under two tackles for loss per game. Not to mention he averages just under a sack per game as well.
Graham Mertz started off the game smoking hot, but then cooled off considerably. What do you take away from his uneven performance through the air on Saturday?
Tyler: I think the first few throws were on a script so going downhill after that isn’t all that surprising. At this point he is what he is and the same can be said for the offense. He managed the game and held onto the football. When they run and play defense like that that’s all he has to do. I’m ok with if.
Bremen: The way he played the first drive — when it seemed like the coaching staff was specifically trying to help him get going and hot — was impressive and clearly illustrated his talent when things click. Then, when UW was playing from ahead and trying to just sit on the lead and run, passing situations became more obvious and we saw him cool off. Obviously, he finished without making massive mistakes. As the defense showed today, that might be all we need from Mertz. He has the talent for when we need/want it, and as long as he doesn’t mess up, manage that game dude.
J.J.: Mertz’s opening sequences seemed a bit scripted, plays the coaching staff knew he was comfortable with and could hit, and it worked big time. This isn’t to discredit Mertz’s play of course, as for example the fact that he managed to misdirect a defense with his eyes was a major step forward for him in his development as a quarterback, but I do think some of the cooling off had to do with Wisconsin having to play out more and more situations that weren’t easily script-able (like the first drive and the multiple possessions that started inside the Iowa 10 yard line)
Ryan: It almost seemed like the game plan changed following the end of the first quarter. Early on Mertz was throwing the ball a lot, but then as the game went on, it seemed like they backed off the passing game and he was only throwing in definite passing downs. Part of his early success was that he was throwing the ball when Iowa was expecting the run. There were also a couple of drops in there and that didn’t help Mertz.
What did you think of the play calling? I found myself thinking more positively of it than usual, but perhaps that was just because UW was winning.
Tyler: I think they’ve definitely found a groove and seem to be feeling more comfortable with more of the offense. It was a lot better than most games this year and I hope they continue to develop those type of wrinkles the rest of the way out.
Bremen: The first drive was fantastic. The play action for the touchdown was the exact right call — as evident by how wide open Jake Ferguson was. After the first few drives, the intensity and creativity lessened, but I thought it was much less staid than other games for Wisconsin. UW still called a ton of runs, but that was because they were stepping on their throat. I hope if the Badgers see tighter games down the stretch — we can see more of the first quarter play calling throughout the game.
J.J.: I think this game was a pretty good summation of how Paul Chryst calls games at his best. A good opening drive that seemed to follow a well-prepared game script. An assertive run game, with enough simple passes lobbed in to keep the defense honest. And the use of basic, but definite, creativity in unique situations (calling for play action on the one yard line was a great example of Chryst pulling out one of his subtle but deceptive play calls). Ultimately Chryst and Wisconsin’s goal is almost always to shove the ball down the other team’s throat on the ground. And when they’re doing that, Chryst is rarely ever making play-calling errors.
Ryan: I loved it early on, then it seemed to fizzle a bit. When Wisconsin got in our goal-to-go situation and eventually turned the ball over on downs, I would have loved to see a play-action pass, like Mertz’s touchdown pass to Ferguson. When they faked the hand off, the entire Iowa defense crashed the line, leaving Ferguson wide open. When we got in close the second time, we ran the ball all four times and each time Iowa was expecting it.
Who gets your game balls? One on offense and one on defense please.
Tyler: Chenal on defense and Braelon Allen on offense. Gotta give it to the guys who won you the game. However, I think a lot of guys could be in consideration which is good for a team that has seemed reliant on a few players to win it for them.
Bremen: On offense I’d give it to Danny Davis. Much has been made obviously of the wide receivers’ usage rates of late and specifically Davis’. Today, he showed why he is the number one receiver for the Badgers, hauling in most all his targets and at big times to help move the sticks and keep drives alive. I really liked his performance today, and it was clear his usage helped Mertz get in gear.
Defensively, it has to be Nick Herbig, who had the massive strip sack in the first half and got pressure on Spencer Petras all day. Takeaways were going to be the key in this matchup, and he made sure that the Badgers got that early on, and in fantastic position for the offense to check in. It could go to the whole linebacking core, but I thought No. 19 was always on today — and it would feel mean to just put shine only on Leo Chenal.
J.J.: Offensively, I’ll give it to Mertz. He probably didn’t have the best game of any offensive player, but at the end of the day three touchdowns are three touchdowns, and more importantly it seems Wisconsin has finally figured out his role in the offense and it looks like he’s starting to develop now that he’s in a comfortable spot in the game plan. Defensively, like Ryan and Bremen said, it’s hard to argue against it going to Herbig or Chenal. The duo were flying around everywhere today and making plays all over the field.
Ryan: Defensively, I have to go with Herbig and Chenal. Herbig finished with 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble. Chenal finished with nine tackles, a couple tackles for loss and half a sack, which is commonplace for him. The two of them have been constantly pressuring the QB all season and today was no different. Offensively, I gotta go with Braelon Allen. Did you guys know he is only 17? Insane. He just turned in his fourth-consecutive 100-yard performance. Coincidentally, Wisconsin has won each of his 100-yard games.
The Badgers control their own destiny in the Big Ten West. As of Sunday morning, who do you think represents the division in the conference title game in Indianapolis and why?
Tyler: Wisconsin will represent the Big Ten West against Ohio State. It’s going to be so funny when this 1-3 dumpster fire climbs back and wins at Minnesota to clinch it. Kudos to them, but yes I do believe it will be the Badgers. This team is now good enough to go get rolled by the Buckeyes.
Bremen: ROSE BOWL BABYYYYYYYY!!!
But realistically, the Badgers have three pretty clear wins on the schedule and a likely win against Minnesota. Maybe I’m looking at things with Cardinal and White colored glasses, but it would shock me if Wisconsin doesn’t reach the Big Ten title game by virtue of winning the West. And I think if the offense continues to play mistake free and Allen continues to develop offensively — we might need to talk about Allen much, much more and be thankful for the high schoolers who don’t have to tackle him this year — then UW could give headaches to whichever team comes out of the East.
I hate Ohio State, but they have not showed the same “Ohio State-ness,” aka, inevitability, as previous seasons and Michigan State might be a step too early in their rebuild. Meanwhile, I believe at this very moment — yes, I can see my Cardinal and White colored glasses are on — that if Michigan sneaks out of the East Division, it would be a much different game.
Realistically, the Badgers will get stomped by the other team in the East or lose by a score. BUT I WANT TO BELIEVE BABY — mostly because our defense is so good at stopping the run, and that goes a long way to making teams like OSU, MSU and Michigan really have to adjust.
Also clearly after a few glasses of wine I didn’t really answer this question until now, which is to say that we represent the West in Indy because the Badgers are simply better than the other teams we have to face the rest of the way.
J.J.: Tentatively, I’d say I’m leaning towards Wisconsin representing the West. None of @Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska, and @Minnesota stand out as games that Wisconsin wouldn’t be the more talented team in. Obviously Rutgers and Nebraska have both kept some good teams close this year, but ultimately I think the Badgers should handle them. I haven’t been convinced by Minnesota this year, but an Axe game to decide the West would be very fun.
Of course, by principle, I’d give Wisconsin the edge in that matchup too. That being said, I’d be no more confident than I was in any of the prior Ohio State/Wisconsin Big Ten championship matchups if indeed Ohio State wins the East as I expect them to do. If Michigan or Michigan State could sneak in though, that could be another story.
Ryan: With its win over Iowa, I think Wisconsin will represent the West in the title game. Wisconsin’s remaining schedule is not very daunting - only one of its four remaining opponents has a winning record. In the East, I think it’s a toss up between Michigan State and Ohio State. Their game on Nov. 20 will go a long way in deciding who wins the East. However, if I had to say right now, I would say Michigan State. Mostly because I do not want it to be Ohio State.