When the Illinois Fighting Illini lost to the Purdue Boilermakers 31-24 early Saturday afternoon, there was a glimmer of hope that the Wisconsin Badgers could run away with the Big 10 West.
But, as the rest of the afternoon prolonged, those hopes simmered slowly and brutally, as Wisconsin suffered a devastating 24-10 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes that essentially keeps them out of Indianapolis for yet another season.
Here are the grades for the rest of the offense for Wisconsin against Iowa. If you’re looking for part one, click here.
Wide Receivers: C-
The wide receivers played an inconsistent game on Saturday that led to the disappointing 24-10 defeat to the Hawkeyes.
Skyler Bell got the early action on Drive No. 1, failing to get a good break on an out-route during a 2nd & 8, resulting in a tightly-covered incompletion from quarterback Graham Mertz.
Then, on the following play, Bell ran a good corner post, which Mertz put on his hands, but the redshirt freshman dropped the pass, forcing the Badgers to punt.
Chimere Dike got the next action, freeing himself wide open on a corner post from the slot and making a nice catch off a floater pass from Mertz.
But, on 2nd & 10 on Wisconsin’s second offensive drive, Dike and Bell ran into each other on a pick play to free Dike on a corner route, failing to get pure separation. Mertz should’ve still either thrown the ball to Dike on the outside or hit receiver Keontez Lewis on the shot play to the corner of the endzone, but he threw the pass away.
On Wisconsin’s third drive, Mertz ran away from a clean pocket after looking at just one read, then was chased down and forced to throw it away. If he went through his progressions, he would’ve found Keontez Lewis open over the middle on the backside dig, who clearly was looking for the ball on the play.
Lewis did run a poor route when targeted on the first play of the following drive, flattening out his out-route and becoming way too shallow. While Mertz made a poor throw, Lewis didn’t do him favors on the play.
Then, Mertz and Lewis had a miscommunication on third down where Mertz threw to the middle of the field while Lewis stayed put at the seam, which would’ve been a tough play had Lewis been in the area regardless, as he was double-teamed.
The corner routes weren’t there later in the game for the Badgers, as receivers were tightly covered each time, while the players running routes over the middle consistently got open.
In fact, there were times when Mertz would initially look at the inside route, but go ahead and throw his desired corner route, even though the inside route was open and the corner play was contested.
Receivers did miss blocks in this game, dropped a pass, and struggled to separate at times, but Dike and Lewis were open on several plays over the middle and weren’t found in the receiving game due to Mertz’s inconsistencies.
Tight Ends: B-
Offensive coordinator Bobby Engram consistently schemed tight end Jack Eschenbach open in this game and Graham Mertz never found him.
Eschenbach was probably the most available target all game long, yet didn’t record a single catch in the game and only saw one target, which was a throwaway from Mertz.
Eschenbach had an up-and-down blocking game, whiffing early on an Isaac Guerendo tackle-for-loss, but recovering with a nice block to create a hole opposite of Tanor Bortolini that Braelon Allen neglected to hit.
On Wisconsin’s first offensive drive, Eschenbach was open over the middle on both of Mertz’s incompletions to Bell. In fact, in both plays, both players running concepts across the middle of the field were open, but the quarterback never saw them.
Later in the game, when initially looking to the right before throwing to his desired target, Skyler Bell, running a corner route that was tightly covered, Graham Mertz missed both Chimere Dike and Eschenbach, who were open on the right side.
Eschenbach did have a heads-up play, recovering a fumble that Skyler Bell committed, which kept the drive’s momentum alive, albeit only briefly.
Later, Mertz and Eschenbach had a timing error on what really was a poor throw from Mertz, as the tight end was open on the corner route.
Overall, Eschenbach’s impact on the game was minimal, hence the grade, but it should’ve been much higher.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line did not play as poorly as people believed, but it did have inopportune errors at poor moments.
Right guard Trey Wedig was the primary culprit of poor performance, committing two false starts, as well as a holding penalty on a play in which he was beaten for a sack.
Wedig additionally whiffed on a 1st & 10 Braelon Allen run, forcing run stuff, while later whiffing on a Guerendo carry as well that dropped him in the backfield.
To make matters worse, Wedig accounted for two more sacks, as he was immediately beaten on two plays on the same drive in between a play.
Wedig did have some strong blocks in the running game that led to good carries, but his pass protection has to be in question, and Wisconsin may see their eight iterations of different offensive linemen now that these struggles have arisen.
Tanor Bortolini had an up-and-down game, whiffing on a run block during the first play of scrimmage, causing Braelon Allen to get just two yards.
Later in the quarter, Isaac Guerendo was stuffed for a loss, and Bortolini was pushed out of his block on the play, although the play was dead after Jack Eschenbach was beaten immediately.
Bortolini did contribute a good amount in the running game afterward, creating holes for both Allen and Guerendo, with some coming as the pulling guard, but Allen occasionally didn’t take the hole, resulting in low-yardage plays.
However, the left guard was partially responsible for the sack on Merrtz that killed Wisconsin’s promising third-to-last drive, as he was immediately beaten, alongside Trey Wedig.
The offensive line had a shaky performance where most players did their jobs on a play, but there was a player who failed to execute that left opportunities on the board.
The unit needs to continue to learn to play as one, as coach Bobby Engram has preached, but it was an up-and-down game for the front five.