We have a got a full cast of characters breaking down the Las Vegas Bowl, so there is no time, nor space, for a flowery introduction. Here is what Neal, Ryan, Tyler, J.J., Belz and Jake had to say about the Badgers win on Thursday night!
With the win in the Las Vegas Bowl how do you view this season as a whole?
Neal: Overall an eight win season and bowl victory is about in line with what to expect from a normal Badger football season. However, a number of things stack up that leave a sour taste. Inconsistent offensive line and quarterback performances paired with a superlative defense really made for a feeling of missed opportunities. Combined with off-field developments with a rash (for Wisconsin) of transfers/players no longer on the team and uncertainty in the recruiting department it seems as if the program is at a bit of a crossroads. Admittedly it is a strange feeling for a team that was one-rival-game-win away from playing in the Big Ten Championship game.
Tyler: Ehh, I’m not thrilled about it but I’m not that upset about it either considering the 1-3 start. They bounced back when they easily could’ve folded. However, the loss to Minnesota and not making the Big Ten Title game really overshadows a lot of it and makes it feel like a downer of a year in my opinion. A win in the game I think changes the whole outlook of the season.
Ryan: I think it was a season of missed chances. Opening the season 1-3 was a huge letdown, but then for Wisconsin to win seven straight, it really showed what the team had the potential to be. Another letdown in Minneapolis to end the season, but Wisconsin came out and won a bowl game for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
J.J.: I think Ryan hit it on the head by saying it was a season of missed chances. On paper, eight wins and a bowl win is never an outright “bad” season. But there were several moments where it felt like the Badgers were on small play away from making this a completely different season. The Penn State game, which started off that opening 1-3 stretch, was completely winnable. And despite the offense shooting itself in the foot dozens of times over, it was winnable up until the final play of the game.
The Notre Dame game, which ended up being a blowout, saw the Badgers have the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Ultimately, it’s not an awful season or anything, but it’s hard not to imagine what this year could have been if the offense could have at least pulled it up to an average level at the start of the season. I hope just how good this defense was isn’t forgotten soon.
Jake: In my head, this season is broken up into two “sub-seasons” if you will. The first four games, and the last nine. After starting 1-3, it would’ve been incredibly easy for this team to write the season off and stumble to the finish line. Following the loss to Michigan (which doesn’t look nearly as bad as it once did), UW put together seven straight wins and put themselves in line to play in the Big Ten Championship. Yes, you can say they lost the biggest game of the year, but if they stumble at any point along the way, the Minnesota game doesn’t matter. I’m proud of the boys for finding their identity and putting together a nine win season.
Belz: The defense was great and the Badgers found a dynamic running back to build around for the future, but overall the missed opportunities against Penn State and Minnesota still irk me. The way the team rallied from the tough start was admirable and I think it says a lot about the guys in the locker room though. Overall, I am happy that the seniors were able to go out on a bowl win, and there is a lot of young talent on the roster that saw the field this season. Finishing with nine wins, this was a good, not great season in my eyes, and 95% of that has to do with inconsistent play from the offense.
Who was your offensive MVP and defensive MVP for the Badgers? Nobody can pick Braelon Allen or Leo Chenal.
Neal: Defensively I am going with John Torchio. The Jewelry Thief started the Sun Devils first offensive possession off with an interception to set the tone. He otherwise filled in admirably for Colin Wilder which could have been a huge void in the Badgers secondary. On offense I guess I’ll go with John Chenal?? From possibly not playing, to getting the first touchdown and leading the way for Braelon Allen all night, Chenal was definitely a much needed presence for the Badgers offense that was missing several other senior playmakers.
Tyler: I’ll give it to Graham Mertz, I thought he made enough quality throws to move the ball when called upon. Considering he was down all major targets I think that is a win. Defensively, I’d say Nick Herbig. He played great and had two huge sacks and put a lot of pressure on the Sun Devil offense.
Ryan: No Braelon? No Leo? WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?! Offensively, I will go with Mertz. He did what he needed to do to give Wisconsin the win and made arguably his two best throws of the season - one to Skyler Bell and the other to Chimere Dike as he was getting hammered by the defender. It’s extremely difficult to go out there and be effective as quarterback, when you’re short so many players due to injury (welcome to 2021 Graham Mertz), but I thought he pulled through. On defense, Nick Herbig. He finished with seven tackles, two sacks and 2.5 TFL. Other than Leo, it was Nick in on most plays tonight.
J.J.: Well if I can’t give the offensive game ball to Allen, I’ll give it to the guy who led the way for him, John Chenal. He got a score too, which is always nice to see. On defense my pick is another John, this time John Torchio. The Badgers needed Torchio to step up big time and fill Wilder’s shoes and he did just that, most notably snagging an interception on the first possession.
Jake: Really handcuffing me here Drew. On the defensive side of the ball I’m going to go with Nick Herbig. For the third time this season, he recorded multiple sacks (two) and had seven tackles to go along with it. Overall, great performance from the sophomore. Offensively, I guess I’m going to go with Mertz? He made two of his best throws of the year, one rolling left to Skyler Bell, and another to a wide open Chimere Dike where Graham knew he was going to take a big shot, but stayed in the pocket and completed the pass. Nothing flashy out of QB1, but he did enough to manage the game and get Wisconsin the win.
Belz: I think Herbig is the answer defensively. He got to Jayden Daniels twice to push his season sack total to nine, and Herbig was also second on the team in tackles. Per usual, he was a treat to watch. On offense I will say the combination of Jake Ferguson/John Chenal. They each scored a touchdown in what is expected to be their final games in a Wisconsin uniform, and given the lack of able bodies at their positions they were called upon to block a ton as well. Ferguson was banged up in the second half and Chenal missed the past week of practice, but overall they played key roles in the victory.
How about that last drive, huh? What was your favorite play from the nearly 10 minute march down the field?
Neal: Aside from the complete and utter cluster that was the final four plays of running/kneeling out the clock?? The third down throw from Mertz to Dike was the type of throw that shows the potential Mertz has as a quarterback. Standing strong as in the face of the pass rush to deliver a strike was huge. The Badgers were squarely in danger zone territory without converting on third down at that point in the game.
Tyler: That drive was so sexy. What a way to end the season. It has to be the throw on 3rd and 12. He stood in there knowing he’d take a shot and delivered. That was a huge pick up.
Ryan: It was the most Wisconsin-like drive I have ever seen. So methodical. And the fact that it technically ended with a turnover on downs was the cherry on top. By far my favorite play was Mertz’s pass to Dike. He hung in there long enough for Dike to get open, with the defender barreling down at him and he delivered the perfect pass, while getting hammered.
J.J.: Agree with just about everyone here. That Mertz completion to Dike was massive. Generally speaking, it feels like the expectation for Mertz this year has slowly changed from dynamic gunslinger to someone who simply steps up and makes a few plays when the team needs him while the offense centers around running the ball. And that final drive was the perfect example of him showing why he’s still Wisconsin’s quarterback of the present and future, standing tall while taking a hit and hitting Dike with a great pass for a huge third and long completion.
Jake: I just mentioned it, but the 30-yard completion on 3rd and 12 from Mertz to Dike was massive. Mertz took a huge hit, found his wide open receiver, and kept the ball in the hands of the Badgers. At the time, UW was on their own 24 yard line and if that pass hits the ground, Arizona State takes possession with favorable field position, about five minutes on the clock and a chance to tie the game. Big time play by Mertz. Braelon Allen’s run where the pile seemed to just keep moving for 14 yards was a very close second.
Belz: All of the plays highlighted above were gigantic, and that drive was a perfect way to cap off the season, but my favorite plays were the kneel downs. The satisfaction, at any level of football, of running victory formation is unrivaled. As Herm Edward’s once said…”you play to win the game.”
Will Wisconsin ever learn how to defend a mobile quarterback?
Neal: As everyone else suggests, I think the defense did an okay job defending Daniels. Although his scrambling kept a few drives alive, and is frustrating to watch in real time it was almost exclusively the only way Arizona State could move the ball. Holding a team to 13 points is really a job well done, and only appears worse because the offense floundered in the second half.
Tyler: I thought the Badgers made adjustment and attempted to spy but there were times when Daniels got loose with his speed and getting to the edge. Personally, I don’t think Leo looked that great in that spy role and got beat a few times. So long story short they at least tried just didn’t work. Still, 13 points given up is pretty damn good so can’t be too mad about it.
Ryan: It seemed that they were able to after the first couple of drives, once they put a spy in place and even then, Daniels narrowly escaped a shoestring tackle multiple times. Luckily this doesn’t come up too much as most of the B1G Qbs are pretty much pocket-bound, with the exception of a couple. I like to think that Jim Leonhard takes something away from each game and hopefully their troubles against Martinez led to them having a slightly better handle on Daniels and the way they covered Daniels, will lead to a better defensive strategy against the next one.
J.J.: I’m not sure what else Wisconsin could have done aside from played with a QB spy from the opening snap outright. Once Leonhard did make that adjustment Daniels was for the most part contained, and it’s not like Wisconsin was ever going to commit multiple defenders to playing spy.
Jake: Defending a mobile quarterback has to be really tough when you don’t have to do it often. Outside of Adrian Martinez, you aren’t forced to defend a ton of those kinds of guys in the Big Ten. It got better as the game progressed, but Daniels picked up far too many first downs on his legs when it seemed like UW had him dead to rights.
Belz: The Wisconsin defense only allowed 13 points and Jayden Daniels finished averaging 2.1 yards per carry when accounting for sack yardage. I would consider that pretty good to be honest. Mobile quarterbacks stress defenses in a unique way that makes it hard to stop. In general, the fact that ASU’s entire offense was limited to Daniel’s ad-libbing was positive from my perspective.
Which of the young players that got some extended playing time were you most impressed by?
Neal: It has to be wide receivers Markus Allen and Skyler Bell. For their first extended action of the season to come in a bowl game setting I thought they demonstrated the moment was not too big for them. They will definitely be counted on to be major contributors to the offense next season and getting some big game reps to cap off this year will hopefully be a springboard to success next fall.
Tyler: Jordan Turner looked really solid and I think he’ll be an off-season hype player for sure. He played really well. Hunter Wohler looked really bad one play but made a nice player shortly after. Both Allen and Bell were pretty good in flashes.
Ryan: Allen and Bell. Both are true freshmen, playing in a bowl game and if I am not mistaken, it was Bell’s first appearance of the season. For Bell to make the diving catch that he did and for Allen to make the reception that he did early on, it shows that Wisconsin has a bright future on the outside.
J.J.: Markus Allen is the future. The Badgers need receivers to step up next year, and he looked ready. Skyler Bell looked sharp as well.
Jake: I was really impressed by redshirt freshman Jordan Turner on the defensive side of the ball. He was given limited opportunities but made the most of them, coming up with a few big plays including a tackle for loss. Very excited to see what he can do when given consistent opportunities at the linebacker position.
Belz: My love of Jordan Turner is well documented at this point if you listen to the podcast, and I enjoyed seeing some of the young receivers make plays, but I will go with Tanor Bortolini. He has done a great job of filling in multiple times along the offensive line the past two seasons and I think he has positioned himself well for a larger role next season if he can stay healthy. Seeing Hunter Wohler quickly bounce back with a big TFL following the misplayed deep ball also stood out to me.