Needless to say, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks since took on Ohio St. There’s a new contract and reduced buyout for HC Scott Frost on the one hand and a whole bunch of analysts and advisors now running the offense on the other after an assistant coach housecleaning on that side of the ball. In addition, team captain, nickel/LB hybrid and general all-around shit-mixer of opponents’ offense had to call it a year to get surgery on an injured hand.
And waiting in the wings for the first of two more football games after all that nonsense is general nuisance Wisconsin who comes in heavily favored to run their record against the Huskers to 9-1 since we jined up with the B1G.
To let us know what the Badgers are thinking about this weekend is Drew Hamm from SBNation Wisconsin site Bucky’s 5th Quarter who gracious enough to answer a few of our questions. Let’s get right to it.
After a 1-3 start which included hijinks that even had Husker fans feeling yo’ pain, the Badgers have been on a roll which has them playing arguably as well as anyone in the conference. What happened?
There are a couple of factors at play when you look at Wisconsin’s poor start to the season. First, and probably most obvious, is the fact that it was the most difficult part of their schedule. We can discuss until the cows come home whether or not Penn State (no), Michigan (probably no) or Notre Dame (actually ok, I think) are actually any good for real, but it was still a tough start to the year for the Badgers.
Secondly, Wisconsin had some injuries to the offensive line in fall camp and during the first few games of the season they were still doing hockey-style line changes of the o-line, trying to find the best group of five players. What ended up happening was none of the linemen got into the flow of the game and both pass protection and the running game suffered. Needless to say, the line changes haven’t been happening during this winning streak.
Thirdly, freshman RB Braelon Allen hadn’t emerged onto the scene yet and, while Chez Mellusi (out for the season now) played admirably in the opening games, the backups were nothing to write home about. Allen was the needed “2” in the 1-2 punch in the backfield and in the first four games it was just “1.”
As good as Braelon Allen has looked, it probably sounds a little silly to ask if he’s ready to carry the load with Chez Mellusi out for the season. But I’ll ask - is the 240-lb freshman up to the task?
It seems like he is. He carried the ball 25 times for 173 yards last week against Northwestern and scored three touchdowns all of that without seeing the field much in the fourth quarter. The Badgers have a couple of backs (Brady Schipper is the third down/pass catcher, Julius Davis is talented yet injury/fumble prone, Jackson Acker and Grover Bortolotti are freshmen and unproven) behind Allen, but the bruising freshman is the lead back for sure. Without him the offense would be forced to pass a bit more and, well, nobody wants that. Wait, you guys probably want that.
When Graham Mertz originally signed with Wisconsin, much was made of his Rivals 5-star pedigree, but he seems to be settled in as another game manager for the Badger running attack. Are Wisconsin fans satisfied with this especially now that he seems to have licked the early season INT bug? For that matter, is Mertz ok with lobbing it up only 15-20 times a game?
Yeah...Mertz. He has definitely gotten better as the season has gone on but, to be fair, it would have been nearly impossible to get much worse. He has all of the talent to be more than a game-manager type, but right now he still doesn’t seem to have the full mental aspect of the game nailed down.
I think Wisconsin fans are satisfied with the improvement he has shown but still want to see more. Mertz has shown flashes of the quarterback he can become, and hopefully he gets there, but he still needs to improve. I doubt Mertz is ok with throwing it so few times, but he has been the consummate teammate in every interview/media interaction so he’s probably fine with is as long as the team keeps winning.
Even though some might be fooled by the Notre Dame & Michigan scores, the Badger defense has been on lockdown all year. Who are a couple of names on that side of the ball Husker fans will be sick of hearing by game’s end?
A lot of the scores in those games were Wisconsin’s offense’s fault lol. As far as names you should know: ILBs Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn are the two players who will rack up the most tackles and do a good amount of Martinez Harassment. NT Keeanu Benton is my favorite player on the defense. You won’t hear his name called too often, but he is a difference-maker in the middle of the defense and can get after the quarterback in his own right. CBs Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks will try to keep the Nebraska wideouts under wraps and, after the job they did against Purdue’s David Bell a few weeks ago, I don’t doubt their credentials.
An under-the-radar name, as all of those players above are starters, is S John Torchio. He rotates in for the defensive backs and has two interceptions in his last four games. He always seems to make something happen in his limited snaps, so don’t be surprised if his name gets called on a turnover.
Skipping ahead a little with the assumption you win out - are Badger fans starting to think they might have a nasty surprise for whoever comes out as the East champion and might be thinking ahead themselves to the CFP?
If the Badgers make the Big Ten Title game they will surely be underdogs to Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State and rightly so. Wisconsin has already lost to Michigan this year and while I think if they played right now things would go very differently, I don’t know if that means a UW win and not just a closer loss. I think Ohio State and Wisconsin would be a close game, as the games often are between the two, but the Buckeyes would pull away at the end and I have no idea what to make of Michigan State who I think are fraudulent, but they just keep winning.
Wisconsin would keep it a close game with any of those teams, but I struggle to see the Badgers winning against any of them.
Prediction time - the hottest team in the B1G West takes on the hard-luck Huskers who just continue to cover as an underdog against ranked teams in the ABC prime afternoon time throwdown. As the sun sets in Lincoln, what’s the final score?
I think Wisconsin wins. The score is probably something weird like 27-16 and Adrian Martinez gains a bunch of yards but the Badgers defense forces a few mistakes out of him to secure the victory. Maybe a Torchio interception????