It was a beautiful, fall afternoon in Piscataway, N.J. for a football game and the No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (6-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) enjoyed the exercise and fresh air while pummeling Rutgers (4-5 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) in a fine pulp, 52-3.
Here is what J.J., Tyler and Ryan had to say about the game, Graham Mertz’s performance, Paul Chryst’s play-calling and a brief look ahead to Northwestern next weekend.
What did you like about Graham Mertz’s performance on Saturday?
J.J.: This was the development we expected to see from game one! It’s happening! Rutgers’ defense obviously, to some extent, was very clearly broken by the second half but Mertz was allowed a longer leash than usual and played mostly mistake-free ball. His pocket presence has improved so much from game one. He didn’t look flustered when he had to face pressure on Saturday.
Ryan: What wasn’t to like? Yes, he threw an interception, but I think that was largely due to Ferguson stumbling on his route. The coaching staff let Mertz air it out and I think that is what he needed after throwing the ball very little over the last few games. Mertz’s passes were crisp and you can tell he has progressed since earlier this season.
Tyler: I think he threw the ball with zip and touch when needed. The tools are still very much there and I think you saw that here. They’re raw but they exist. I’m glad the coaching staff got some confidence in him as they move into November. You’re winning games right now without throwing all the much, but eventually, it needs to be at least a small threat.
If Chez Mellusi is out for an extended period of time and Braelon Allen remains banged up...did you like what you saw from Julius Davis, Jackson Acker and ::double checks roster:: Grover Bortolotti?
J.J.: Sure! We’ll go back to the obvious caveat that there reached a point in the game where the Rutgers defense had kind of checked out and that limits the amount of legitimate takeaways you can get from this game, but overall, the running back stable looked talented and deep. Obviously the ideal scenario is to get Allen and Mellusi back ASAP though.
Ryan: I did. I have been wanting to see Davis get some carries for a few seasons and I thought he did a good job in limited carries. Acker showed good burst and Bortolotti looked great to finish the game and honestly is there a more Wisconsin football name than Grover Bortolotti…? No, there is not.
Tyler: It was nice to finally see Davis and Acker get some touches and I liked what I saw from each. Tbh, I had four bets going in the 2:30 p.m. window (all winners) so I didn’t catch much of Bort, but sure! The way the line is playing in the run game I think they can tread water and keep fingers crossed that Mellusi can get back. Allen is the guy, but they’re a good combo.
How about that play call on fourth and goal to get John Chenal a touchdown?!? What did you think about the coaching staff on Saturday?
J.J.: I say often that I think Chryst is a more clever play caller than he gets credit for. Yes, he’s conservative, but that only highlights how effective it is when he does go for something more deceptive like a play action when everyone expects the classic Wisconsin fourth and short smash mouth run up the cut. He’s not some wild gunslinging trick play extraordinaire, but he is subtly very good at those fourth and short situations.
Ryan: I thought the coaching staff pushed all the right buttons, I mean they scored 52 points, so they must have done a couple things right. The play-action pass to Chenal was perfect. Fourth and goal from the one-yard-line? Everyone in the stadium thought we would be giving it to the 6-foot-2, 240-pound bruiser of a tailback and, just like Mertz’s TD pass to Ferguson last week, they had everyone caught off guard.
Tyler: They scored 50+ points for the first time in forever so I think all you can do is praise them. I love that they got all the right guys involved. Even all the wideouts got going which is huge. Anytime you can get the deep reserves some snaps you have to be happy. Should be a morale booster for everyone.
Who gets game balls for the offense and the defense?
J.J.: Danny Davis for offense. Mertz got to air it out, and Davis finally had a big game as a result. He’s always had that breakaway speed, and we finally got to see it today. Herbig on defense, with a sack and two TFL. Though really, the whole defense deserves it.
Ryan: Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis on offense. Pryor recorded a career-high 72 receiving yards and an impressive touchdown grab. While Davis scored his first touchdown since the 2020 season opener on a 72-yard touchdown reception, that was mostly RAC yards.
On defense, I gotta go with Nick Herbig, Caesar Williams and Hunter Wohler. Herbig got his seventh sack and two TFL, Williams had the big pick-six that really broke things open and Wohler had six tackles off the bench.
Tyler: I agree with Ryan, Davis and Pryor should get it after having their big games. Defensively I’ll go with Caesar Williams for his pick six. That really changed the game from a comfy win to a blowout.
Quick look ahead: what concerns do you have heading into a game with Northwestern and their voodoo magic?
J.J.: Northwestern, even away from Ryan Field, is always somewhat of a scary game just because of the nature of Pat Fitzgerald’s teams. They’re not good on offense, and especially not good this year, but they are stingy on defense and if Wisconsin comes into this game banged up in the backfield the Cardiac Cats have the potential to drag this into a 17-7 sleeper. But overall, as long as it’s at Camp Randall, I’m not TOO concerned.
Ryan: Northwestern’s voodoo magic is non-existent away from Ryan Field. They’ve played a very below-average season this year and haven’t really posed much of a threat against teams that I would consider to be at Wisconsin’s level. My only concern is the health of the Badgers, like Mellusi and OL Jack Nelson.
Tyler: Northwestern will always strike a bit of concern but I don’t see a ton of worry unless the injuries really pile up. Even then, I can’t really get super worried. This NU team just isn’t good and they haven’t been good all year long.