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Wisconsin Football offensive grades: Graham Mertz struggles to find rhythm

Turnovers and inconsistencies plagued the Badgers offense as they mustered only 14 points.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers heavily struggled on Saturday, as penalties, turnovers, and a failure to execute was the reason for their first loss of the 2022 season, which came at the hands of the unranked Washington State Cougars.

Here are the offensive grades for the Badgers:

Quarterback: C+

After an efficient outing in Week 1, Graham Mertz’s play took a step back in Week 2, completing just 18/31 passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

However, the box score doesn’t paint the full picture, both positively and negatively.

The issues from Mertz’s first start, such as missing reads, plagued him again, as he occasionally prolonged plays by trying to find different options, stalling the offense.

Additionally, Mertz didn’t seem to have as much faith in his offensive line, rolling out to his right on several occasions, which limited his downfield vision as he would only see half of the field on those plays.

A change from Mertz’s performance in Week 1 was the willingness to challenge the defense downfield, as the junior looked for Keontez Lewis on several occasions. Last week, Mertz didn’t complete a single pass of more than 20 air yards, but that changed in week two, suggesting a development in his style.

However, Mertz wasn’t entirely accurate on those throws, overthrowing on one occasion, while getting bailed out by an unnecessary pass interference on another.

But, if Mertz continues to display the desire to throw downfield, it would stretch defenses vertically, forcing them to shy away from stacking the box, which in return opens up the running game.

All wasn’t Mertz’s fault though, as Bobby Engram’s playcalling was significantly worse than in Week 1, with a decrease in play-action, as well as questionable choices on early downs, setting up tougher conversions.

Furthermore, on Mertz’s interception, the quarterback was hit on the throw, which is partially to blame on the offensive line, resulting in the turnover.

Overall, Mertz certainly did not have the prettiest performance, but showed development with the desire to test the defense downfield, and didn’t have the best circumstances around him, hence the C+ grade.

Running Backs: B-

After rushing for 221 yards on 37 attempts in Week 1, the Badgers struggled on the ground in Week 2 as a team, only garnering 174 yards on 44 attempts(4.0 yards per carry), which was a reason that the offense stalled at times.

Braelon Allen had a good performance, rushing for 98 yards on 21 attempts, but was once again hesitant in hitting lanes at times, however; the lack of decisiveness likely was attributed to the poor offensive line play as opposed to a change in Allen’s mentality.

When Allen is decisive, the potential is sky-high as the sophomore back is very elusive for his size, showcasing the ability to perform cutbacks and continue at a good speed.

Chez Mellusi had a worse performance in Week 2, rushing for just 44 yards on 15 attempts after averaging 4.8 yards per carry in Week 1.

Mellusi doesn’t necessarily possess any elite traits, but has shown the capability to get the job done, however; the close divide in workload between him and Allen was certainly interesting, given that the former running back was struggling to create bigger plays on Saturday.

Wisconsin’s offense seemed much more predictable in Week 2, as Wisconsin continued to run 12 personnel for a majority of the game, which Washington State’s tough defensive line was prepared for.

As a result, the run game could never materialize, especially early, which placed an even more strenuous burden on Graham Mertz, who could only muster 14 points through the air.

Braelon Allen still had an efficient game, but the rushing attack overall struggled in comparison to Week 1, hence the B- grade.

Wide Receivers: C+

After a week in which the wideouts dominated the offensive flow, the unit struggled to create plays against the Cougars.

Last week, Chimere Dike and Markus Allen had three catches a piece, and while the former had four receptions for 31 yards, both players dropped a pass on Saturday, killing the flow of the offense at the time.

Allen was a disappointment in Week 2 after looking like one of Graham Mertz’s top options, hauling in just one of his four targets for 11 yards.

Skyler Bell hasn’t shined much in either week after a strong training camp, catching two passes for 17 yards, while rushing three times for 12 yards.

Bell hasn’t been a deep threat option as much for Mertz, potentially limiting his value, but his progress in the offense will be something to monitor in the ensuing weeks.

On the bright side, UCLA receiver Keontez Lewis looks like the top deep threat of the team, consistently beating his defender at the line of scrimmage with his release package, and hauling in two passes for 62 yards.

While Lewis doesn’t possess elite deep-threat speed, his release package consistently created open looks, providing Mertz a chance to connect for a big play, which happened on some occasions.

Overall, the receiver room disappointed with dropped passes on Saturday, but there may be a new emergence in the offense as the season prolongs.

Tight Ends: B-

Originally, it was looking like a strong night for the tight ends, as top option Clay Cundiff caught two touchdown passes en route to being Wisconsin’s second-leading receiver in Week 2 with four catches and 35 yards.

However, Hayden Rucci, who didn’t see a single target after two catches in Week 1, committed a 15-yard block-in-the-back penalty, while Cundiff fumbled the ball at a crucial point of the game.

It’s a good sign that Mertz is looking for his safety blanket in Cundiff, who found ways to get open, as the tight end had six targets on Saturday, ranking as the second-highest of any Badgers’ player.

Now, it’s up to Cundiff and Rucci to execute and limit the damage to provide the offense a chance to put up points.Prior to Cundiff’s fumble, the tight end room was looking like the best unit of any on the offense. Overall, though, the group grades out at a B- when involving the penalties and turnovers.

NCAA Football: Illinois State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line struggled mightily on Saturday against a tough Washington State defensive front, failing to consistently generate holes in the running game, while also forcing Graham Mertz to consistently improvise, which made the junior quarterback rely on his feet more than necessary.

The Badgers only rushed for four yards a carry, and left guard Tyler Beach echoed the sentiment that the offensive line needed to improve off today’s performance.

The left side of the offensive line, which had been Wisconsin’s bread and butter, even struggled, and it appeared that they were more relied upon with the absence of Mahlman, adding to the predictability of the offense.

Overall, the Badgers committed 11 penalties for 106 yards, of which several came on the offensive line, including two calls on center Joe Tippman and a chop block on right guard Michael Furtney.

If Wisconsin wants to continue competing at a high level in 2022, it must improve the offensive line play, which should come with more familiarity with a fairly new group.

In good news, Beach had high praise for left tackle Jack Nelson, whom he believes has played great to begin the season at a new position.

However, the penalties, lack of an established rushing attack, and inconsistent play rank the offensive line amongst the worst position group for the Badgers on Saturday.