In what is becoming sort of a trend, the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (7-3 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) rolled all over another Big Ten opponent on Saturday afternoon. This week’s victim? The Northwestern Wildcats (3-7 overall, 1-6 Big Ten), who came into the game losers of three straight, did not put up much resistance as the Badgers won 35-7.
The defense looked as impressive as ever and Braelon Allen and Graham Mertz continue to build on positive performances each week. This Badgers team is becoming more complete as the season goes on.
We got Tyler, Bremen, Ryan and J.J. together to discuss the game, and here are their thoughts!
Did Graham Mertz improve his game or did the Wisconsin offense around him improve, allowing him to play better, because he has looked great the last two weeks!
Tyler: I think Mertz has improved his game week after week, but I also think those first few weeks got a lot of negative attention on him when he wasn’t the only issue. At that point of the season the offense was still doing hockey rotations on the offensive line (still one of the worst calls of the year) and the run game stunk. I think as a whole every memeber has elevated one another. No. 5 has always had the tools to be a good quarterback.
Bremen: It always has seemed to be about confidence with Mertz. He was not confident in the first few games and clearly struggled to throw the ball. That wasn’t helped by an offensive line seemingly letting everyone run right at him. Now that the team has settled in, it’s given him a chance to do the same and he played his best game of the season.
Ryan: I think it’s a combination of both. The offensive line has been doing a great job protecting him, giving him more time. This has allowed him to go through his reads in the passing game and involve more guys, which is something that comes with experience. We’re watching Mertz mature and progress, right before our eyes week by week. It doesn’t hurt that the rushing attack has gotten a lot better as the season has gone on.
J.J.: I think the credit going all around is fair. On one hand, as we’ve discussed in prior roundtables the Wisconsin staff seems to have figured out how to use him in a way that suits both his development and the team best. So that’s good, and it will also be interesting to see how they might tweak that if Wisconsin has to play in a higher scoring contest, like the Big Ten Championship.
But on the other hand, the improved play of the line has been huge. Mertz doesn’t have the legs to make things happen in most circumstances when the pocket collapses, and doesn’t have enough experience or receiver chemistry to be able to make quick instinctive reads when he only has a few seconds to throw.
With more time to scan the field and set himself, Mertz unsurprisingly looks a lot more in control. And of course some plaudits should go to the quarterback himself, for taking the early season bumps on the chin and fighting through it to improve.
Braelon Allen is good. Uh, talk about that!
Tyler: He’s pretty incredible. It’s hard to believe that he wasn’t getting touches, like, right away? I think Wisconsin beats both Penn State and Notre Dame if he had been in there to run the ball. It’s crazy. I’m so excited to see what he does with his career at UW. He seems to be the next in line to be an all-time great.
Bremen: It’s still so funny there could have been 15 or 16-year-olds trying to tackle him this year. He really has been the story of the season, and has whispers of Johnathan Taylor about him — complete with the fumbles early on in his career. While I know that is incredibly high praise and don’t want to risk over-hyping him, he’s averaging like seven yards per carry when the world knows UW is going to run. Crazy.
Ryan: Allen is a man among boys out there on the field, which is weird because he is only 17… but anyways, he is built like a Mack truck and he runs like one too, flattening anyone and everyone in his path. While he has the strength to run through guys, he also has the speed to run away from defenders and the vision to find openings. He really has become the full package at running back.
J.J.: Hahahahaha he could have been playing Mukwonago High last night. I genuinely think at this point it’s a reasonable question to ask if Allen could have put up 750+ yards in a game in his senior year in high school assuming he stayed his final year and was kept in a during a blowout. Because he’s bullying kids on full scholarships and four year weight plans out there. I’d be morbidly fascinated to see what he could have done in his senior year against Chris from AP US History class.
What was your favorite part of Wisconsin’s defensive performance?
Tyler: Along the lines of what everyone else said, I’d say their resiliency. They came out and got a good punch from Northwestern but held on. Multiple times they faced fourth down and got off the field. This group is tough man. Just incredible. They’ve allowed 7.6 points a game during this win streak which is pretty insane. We want Ohio…?
Bremen: It’s also said below but they snuff things out really quickly even after mistakes. Northwestern looked to get rhythm in its first drive and immediately Caesar Williams came up with a pick. NU had that fluky fumble that they recovered and drove down in the field, and then the defense got another interception. They have gotten really good at getting off the field with a big play, and those big plays come from all over the defense.
Ryan: Their ability to bend, but not break. During Northwestern’s opening drive, the Wildcats traveled 82 yards, over 19 plays, for nearly eight minutes of the game. They converted three third downs and one fourth down. Caesar Williams ended their drive with an interception, which jump started the Badger defense. Northwestern didn’t convert another third down or fourth down for the rest of the game. Wisconsin clamping down like they did following the opening drive, was one of the more impressive things I have seen them do this season.
J.J.: Going to agree with Ryan here. On multiple occasions Northwestern felt like they could be on the verge of finding an offensive spark or rhythm, but every time the defense rose to the occasion and got the sack, or the interception, or the fourth down stuff. That’s not just talent, that’s maturity, and I think it’s a major credit to the mental side of this Badgers defense that they were able to stand tall whenever it looked like the opposing team could threaten.
Game balls for offense and defense? No Braelon Allen and no Leo Chenal allowed!
Tyler: Gotta give it to Graham Mertz. He has been better each week and it’s awesome to see. Kudos to him for stepping up when most of us fans were off the bandwagon or close to jumping. Other kids just quit or transfer these days but Mertz stuck with it. Defense I’ll give it to Williams because that pick was huge. Completely shifted the start of the game. His pick last week did the same thing. He’s been great.
Bremen: If we’re not giving it to Braelon Allen, then it goes to the quarterback Graham Mertz. He’s looking like the highly-touted and talented prospect we expected him to be, and was spraying the ball all over the field.
On defense, I’d give it to the secondary. While we knew Northwestern wouldn’t provide that much throwing the ball, Caesar Williams’ pick helped totally give UW the momentum after a shaky start. We didn’t hear Faion Hicks’ name much, but that’s because he blanketed his side of the field. Add in Nelson’s run stopping ability, John Torchio and Dean Engram’s picks, it was a banner day for the defensive backfield.
Ryan: No Braelon OR Leo?!? On offense, I’ll go with Graham Mertz, who threw for 200+ yards for the second straight game and seems to have all the confidence in the world right now. On defense, I have to go with Jack Sanborn and Caesar Williams. Sanborn stuffed the stat sheet once again - 10 tackles (six solo), three TFL and Williams hauled in the interception that jump-started the Badgers defense and also recorded five tackles (three solo) and one pass break up.
J.J.: Fine, I’ll sneak around Drew’s caveats by just being super general. The offensive line gets my offensive game ball- no sacks allowed and 268 yards racked up on the ground is pretty #good. And the ENTIRE DEFENSE gets the defensive game ball. Can I do that? Who’s stopping me? For all intents and purposes, they themselves did pitch a shutout, given that Northwestern’s only touchdown came off an offensive turnover. So have a day, all you guys.
How does the offensive line (plus Jake Ferguson) get five false start penalties, at home, in a non-competitve game...that wasn’t even a sellout?
Tyler: That whole situation defies logic and I am pretending it didn’t actually happen.
Bremen: I am not a football expert, but that is really not good. It’s possible that UW players’ also just wanted to get the Northwestern game over with because it’s so rare that good things come from it. However, I hope it is a quick fix.
Ryan: Reasons...? Maybe the cold weather...? Could have been things that the Northwestern defense was doing, such as showing blitzes. Regardless of the reason, I think it’s something that they can easily fix, heading into the rest of the season.
J.J: Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t get as much black magic as usual in one of Northwestern’s scheduled “bleh” years between Big Ten West title runs, so he uses his small weekly allotment on menial stuff like that to bother Chryst and force team blogs like us into a confused tailspin. And it’s working. Clever, clever, Fitzgerald, always crafty even with the restrictions in place around him.