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Grading Wisconsin’s embarrassing showing vs. Notre Dame

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How did the Badgers grade out in their blowout loss to Notre Dame?

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Rubric - Wisconsin Football Unit Grades

Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
A Excellent: Top-5 level performance
B Very good: Top-tier Big Ten performance
C Acceptable: Average for the Big Ten
D Unacceptable: Below average for the Big Ten
F Failure: Rutgers level performance
N/A Insufficient evidence for a grade

Offense: D

QB: D
O-line: C+
RB/FB: B-
WR/TE: C-

Rationale:

Notre Dame has a good defense, that can’t be forgotten, but Wisconsin’s offense was borderline anemic for most of this game, and whether it was play calling, Graham Mertz, or the lack of execution from the run game, it was tough sledding for Bucky on Saturday.

There will be much more discussion of this than I’ll put here, but Graham Mertz struggled intermittently in this game, and his kryptonite of turnovers bit the Badgers in a big way today. Four interceptions and a lost fumble were far too much for the Badgers to overcome.

Mertz’s lack of linear development has been extremely frustrating to watch for fans, and at times the “old” Mertz was there. Ripping balls in the intermediate part of the field, and his touchdown drive that ended with a pass to Kendric Pryor looked like a completely different player than most of the game.

Hesitance, sloppiness and a seeming lack of confidence were the downfall for Mertz against the Irish. I also don’t think it can go unchecked that simply, Wisconsin’s pass catching options aren’t good enough to beat Notre Dame - outside of Jake Ferguson, who was matched up with Kyle Hamilton, maybe the best player in the country, regardless of position.

The run game never really got going for Wisconsin, but it was tough to tell whether it was caused by a lack of execution, or a lack of play calling creativity. Chez Mellusi and Jalen Berger ran hard, but only a couple of chunk gains were made and there never felt like a real rhythm was developed by the Badgers up front.

The offensive line I don’t think played poorly, but the group continues to get the grandfathering of the Badger lines before them and simply they’re not as good. They’re rotating nine linemen throughout the game and it’s tough to tell whether it’s because there aren’t five definitively better guys, or if there are nine worthy guys. Regardless, it’s been far too difficult on offense for the Badgers, and a lot of that starts up front.

Defense: A

Pass rush: A+
Pass coverage: B+
Run defense: A+

Rationale:

The Badgers GOT AFTER Jack Coan, and ended the day with six sacks. Nick Herbig, Jack Sanborn, Rodas Johnson, Matt Henningsen, Keeanu Benton and Leo Chenal all had parts in sacks, and the Notre Dame offensive line was on their heels all game. The Wisconsin defense goes to another level when they can rush the passer effectively, and they did in Soldier Field on Saturday.

Overall, I thought the Badgers covered pretty well. Scott Nelson dropped a pick six in the first quarter, and Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams both had pass breakups and made things difficult on the Irish receivers. The only real downside was the long ball to Kevin Austin, which probably wasn’t a catch, but was upheld by replay.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Wisconsin Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish continued to try, but results were futile and the Badgers forced Notre Dame to be one dimensional early, and that was because it was quickly apparent that they wouldn’t be able to consistently run the ball against UW.

Special Teams: B-

Kicking: B
Punting: B
Returning: B+
Coverage: D

Rationale:

Collin Larsh made the field goals he should have and missed a long, tough field goal. I’ll give him a bit of a pass on that. Andy Vujnovich was solid as well. Devin Chandler had two nice returns, with one called back due to a penalty, and he showed some nice vision as a returner.

Overall, I don’t think they were terrible, but in a game where the Badgers’ unraveling really started when they took the lead 13-10 and would allow 31 unanswered points to end the game, the kickoff return allowed was the tipping point.

Coaching: C-

Strategy: C-
Adjustments: D
Play-calling: D+

Rationale:

The only reason this grade isn’t a low D is due to defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, which isn’t a part of this formula, but I’m writing this so I make the rules.

I’ve defended Paul Chryst for a long time, and I still feel as though he’s a legitimately good head coach, but the time has come for Wisconsin to hire an offensive coordinator. It’s extremely difficult for someone to be a good head coach and coordinator, but regardless of personnel or execution, there were certain aspects of the game plan or a lack of adjustments that seem, at least to me, that were missed.

Overall, Wisconsin led this football game during the fourth quarter, and lost by 28. There needs to be some type of reckoning between play calling, quarterback play, and the offensive line. If they don’t get on the same page and get a lot of things cleaned up, Michigan might be just as ugly next weekend.

Overall grade: C-

Unit Grades: C-
Big plays: D+
Game Control: C-
Penalties & Discipline: B+

Rationale:

A C- is likely way too generous, but this wasn’t a 28 point football game. Wisconsin was LEADING THIS GAME early in the fourth quarter despite their issues. The defense is legitimate, but offensively they struggled and special teams let the team down on multiple occasions today.

Wisconsin hit the big throw to Clay Cundiff, and that was really the only chunk play the offense had outside of one run by Chez Mellusi. Devin Chandler’s returns gave Wisconsin some short fields, but for the most part Wisconsin had to execute and work their way down the field, which wasn’t in the cards for the Cardinal and White.