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Wisconsin Football offensive grades: Offense sputters after hot start in 34-28 loss to Michigan State Spartans

The Badgers reverted back to old ways offensively in another disappointing loss to drop back under .500.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers suffered another loss, this time in competitive fashion as they were outplayed by the Michigan State Spartans in a 34-28 double-overtime defeat.

After a hot start, the Badgers’ offense fizzled, allowing the Spartans to overcome an early deficit and control momentum for the majority of the second half before they pulled away in overtime following a Braelon Allen fumble.

Here are the offensive grades against Michigan State:

Quarterback: B-

Graham Mertz didn’t have a great game statistically, completing just 14/25 passes for 131 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Mertz started the game strong, completing a nine-yard pass on 2nd & 9 for a first down, as well as an 18-yard connection to Chimere Dike on 3rd & 18 for a long conversion after a sack.

Those two plays on the beginning drive, along with a variety of Braelon Allen runs, led to an early Badgers touchdown that provided them the initial momentum.

However, Mertz’s inconsistencies continued as the quarterback threw an inexcusable interception behind tight end Jack Eschenbach near his own endzone that granted Michigan State a touchdown on their ensuing drive in just two plays to tie the score.

The junior quarterback threw a near-interception in overtime, but was dropped on what appeared to be a miscommunication.

Mertz orchestrated a commanding third offensive drive, however, completing two short passes to Skyler Bell and an 11-yard third-down conversion to Keontez Lewis before running for 14 yards, setting up a 1-yard Braelon Allen touchdown.

Early in the game, Mertz did what was asked of him, aside from the poor interception, which was what Wisconsin needed to control the game pace.

However, when his team needed him to regain offensive momentum in the third quarter, Mertz misfired on five passe in a single drive, including on three consecutive plays that forced the Badgers to punt inside of Michigan State territory.

Mertz made two clutch throws: a touchdown pass to an open Keontez Lewis with just over two minutes left in the game to tie the score and a touchdown pass to Chimere Dike in overtime to extend the game.

However, he wasn’t heavily relied upon after his misfires and continues to display some accuracy concerns, although the biggest issue offensively for the Badgers came via their one-dimensional playcalling that fixated on running heavily on first down.

Running Backs: B

Braelon Allen received a significant workload, taking 29 of Wisconsin’s 31 carries in the game for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Allen’s biggest play came from a 41-yard rush early in the game, elevating his stats on what was a slower day for the star running back after a strong start.

However, he was the focal point of the offense as Wisconsin often ran the ball on first down, while handing the ball off to their star significantly on their final offensive drive of regulation.

Allen’s workload must be questioned as he’s already amounted to 133 carries on the season, and offensive coordinator Bobby Engram said the team will continue to monitor that situation.

Backup running back Isaac Guerendo was a non-factor in the game, earning just two carries for two yards, although he did have a fantastic kickoff return once again that provided Wisconsin an opportunity to score on their final drive from regulation.

Guerendo deserves more carries with his speed that can correlate to Wisconsin’s outside zone run scheme, yet it doesn't seem that will be the case soon.

With Purdue’s strong defense, Wisconsin could improve offensively by penetrating the interior, but stretching their 3-4 front on the outside as well to create more opportunities.

Wide Receivers: B

Chimere Dike was the headline of the game once again, catching four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown that tied the game in overtime on third down for the Badgers.

Dike has been Mertz’s go-to target this season, especially on out-routes from the slot, and was efficient with his targets once again.

Skyler Bell was an efficient target as well for Mertz, catching three passes for 24 yards, with two of those plays coming for first-down conversions, while another target was negated by a defensive pass interference penalty on Michigan State.

Bell’s acceleration has been utilized in the running game on end-arounds, and that pattern continued on Saturday with a 27-yard rush off a motion for the redshirt freshman receiver.

Mertz’s favorite downfield target, Keontez Lewis, was limited to just two catches for 14 yards on five targets, although he scored the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

The duo misfired two contested catch opportunities, with one coming over the middle of the field and one coming along the sideline, before an apparent miscommunication led to a near-interception in overtime.

If Wisconsin’s passing game is to reach its full potential, Mertz and Lewis will need to regain that deep-threat ability that was apparent earlier in the season.

Tight Ends: C

Starter Jack Eschenbach had a minimal impact on the game, catching just two passes for 15 yards, while dropping a pass.

Eschenbach and Mertz failed to connect on the quarterback’s early interception during a timing error, while the tight end’s drop came on a crucial third-down conversion opportunity.

Backup tight end Cole Dakovich committed a false start penalty, which was one of four committed by the Badgers in an undisciplined effort offensively.

With the losses of tight end Clay Cundiff and Hayden Rucci, the tight ends’ impact has decreased even more after being inconsistent earlier in the year.

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line had a strong start to the game, which opened up running lanes for starter Braelon Allen, leading to two run-heavy drives resulting in touchdowns.

However, with the lack of a balanced approach, Michigan State’s defense adjusted, clogging up the running lanes, to which Wisconsin struggled to respond to.

Additionally, the offensive line committed a costly four penalties, as guard Tanor Bortolini committed two false starts and a holding penalty, while Trey Wedig had a false start called on him as well.

The offensive penalties drove back several drives, disrupting the rhythm that the Badgers tried to create, leaving several empty drives in the middle of the game, resulting in a loss of momentum.

The offensive line proved capable early, showcasing how they can hold up when working in cohesion with an operating gameplan, but struggled as the game moved forward due to the lack of necessary adjustments offensively.

The Badgers will look to rebound in Week 8, but face a tough matchup as the 5-2 Purdue Boilermakers visit Camp Randall Stadium.