The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (6-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) secured their fifth straight win on Saturday, steamrolling Rutgers 52-3 in Piscataway, N.J. After a sloppy start for both teams, everything went Wisconsin’s way, as the team put together their most dominant performance of the season.
Given the way in which the Badgers took care of business there were plenty of positives to glean from the performance, but one lingering question that also remains. Let’s take a look back at some of the key takeaways from the conference victory for the Badgers.
Over the past five weeks, the Wisconsin defense is doing a hellacious job of getting to the quarterback and forcing turnovers. Against Rutgers, Jim Leonhard’s defense once again shined, recording two sacks, and three interceptions while only allowing 207 yards of total offense and 11 first downs.
Cornerback Caesar Williams had an interception that he took back for a touchdown, while outside linebacker Noah Burks nearly took one back for a score as well. Beyond Williams and Burks, Nick Herbig and Jack Sanborn also played extremely well against Rutgers, each recording a sack, while Sanborn led the team in tackles with nine as well.
At this point, the Wisconsin defense has proven to be unquestionably great. The group seems to play better and better each week, and their ability to generate turnovers in recent weeks has really given this team a shot in the arm. There is not much more that can be said about them, they are a proven commodity and one of the best in the country.
Passing game improvement
The Wisconsin passing game looked good on Saturday. Outside of a poor decision by Graham Mertz early where he locked onto Jake Ferguson and was intercepted, the sophomore quarterback played very well. For the second game in a row, he was not sacked and he looked more confident.
Mertz has been very hot and cold this year, but he was on against Rutgers. For the game, he completed 11-of-16 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He threw multiple touchdowns for the first time this season, and he did a much better job of giving his receivers a chance to make plays.
There has been a lot of discourse about the wide receiver room and opportunities, this game is further proof that they can make plays when given the chance. If Mertz can pass at a 68% clip as he did in the Rutgers game, going forward Wisconsin’s offense will be much more consistent and complete.
On Thursday's podcast, I said we hadn't seen a game where all three of the #Badgers top receivers got going at the same time this season.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) November 7, 2021
Well, it happened against Rutgers:
Kendric Pryor -- 72 yards, 1 touchdown
Danny Davis -- 72 yards, 1 touchdown
Chimere Dike -- 55 yards
With the Badgers in firm control of the game in the early third quarter, Paul Chryst and the coaching staff were able to clear the benches. Wisconsin went to their second-team offense and defense early in the second half, which provided key opportunities for the younger members of the team who traveled to see the field.
With the institution of the redshirt rule a few years ago, which allows freshmen to play in up to four games while preserving the year of eligibility, there were a number of freshmen who saw their first meaningful action. The Badgers are a developmental program, so the extra reps and experience gained from a game like this can be very beneficial for the future.
The #Badgers youngsters are out there now and nothing appears to have changed.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) November 6, 2021
Jordan Turner INT.
One of the most impressive parts of the fact that the second and third-team players saw the field for a large chunk of the game was that the reserves held up against a Big Ten opponent. Rutgers is a much better team than they have been in the past, they beat Illinois just a week ago, so for the reserves to pitch a shutout is a strong indication of the depth the team has.
A few individual performances from reserves were noteworthy...
- ILB Jordan Turner —> had a pretty interception in zone coverage and also beat two blockers on a throw-back screen pass to hold Rutgers from getting a first down.
- RB/FB Jackson Acker —> 24 rushing yards and a touchdown, while also seeing reps as a fullback at times.
- RBs Grover Bortolotti/Julius Davis —> both players saw some action late in the game and ran well.
- WR Markus Allen —> had a pair of nice catches for 34 yards and he also had a solid jet sweep run before being injured.
- S Hunter Wohler —> Wohler was third on the team in tackles with six and also added a tackle for loss. He always appears around the ball when he is on the field and has played a good amount this season.
- CB Ricardo Hallman —> had a pass breakup late in the game.
- DL James Thompson Jr —> he has played a decent amount this year, but he had two tackles against Rutgers.
There were a large number of other players that saw meaningful reps, as young players such as Kaden Johnson, Max Lofy, and Darryl Peterson also recorded a tackle in the game.
The final important point to mention from the game was injuries.
Starting running back Chez Mellusi went down on what appeared to be a non-contact injury that required medical attention and his status is still up in the air. He appeared to be touching or holding his knee following the play, so his health will be important to monitor this week.
Starting right guard Jack Nelson also went down with an injury. Like Mellusi, he did not return to the game, though he did come back to the sidelines to be with his teammates. His prognosis seems a bit more positive based on Paul Chryst’s comments following the game, but his status for Northwestern is also unknown.
Reserve wide receiver Markus Allen, who had put together a strong performance, also went down with an injury late in the game as well, unfortunately.
Having two key starters go down in a blowout is obviously not ideal, and hopefully, both Mellusi and Nelson can return this season considering how important they are to the offense.