Is the Wisconsin football team back? I don’t want to jinx it, but I think they might be back, or at least well on their way. Even with some early mistakes, the Badgers left the hostile West Lafayette environment with an impressive 30-13 win.
The first half was sloppy, there’s no disputing that, but when they cleaned things up in the second half, I think that was a more accurate representation of this Wisconsin football team.
There’s a lot we can take from the latest win from the Wisconsin football team, but here are three of the biggest takeaways I got from their game.
1. The offense for the Wisconsin football team will need to lean on the running game — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Running the football has long been the identity of the Wisconsin football team. After Jonathan Taylor left the program, the running game has struggled, and when I mean struggled, there was a big dropoff in production at the running back position. Now, take that how you will because it’s tough to replace a guy like Taylor, but the running game hasn’t been to the level Wisconsin football fans have been accustomed to.
Now, it feels like it’s back. In the Purdue game, the offensive game plan seemed to take pressure off of Graham Mertz and lean almost completely on the running game. Mertz attempted just eight passes, completing five for just 52 yards. He attempted just two passes in the entire second half.
The Badgers did that by giving the ball to Chez Mellusi or Braelon Allen almost every play. Mellusi and Allen combined for 289 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. That’s an average of 7.4 yards per carry, which is especially impressive given the fact that the Purdue defense came into the game ranked 20th in the country in run defense.
When the Badgers can lean on the running game, control the clock, and keep the turnovers to a minimum, this Wisconsin team is going to be tough to beat, especially with the way the defense is playing.
2. This defense is elite and good enough to keep the Badgers in any game.
Speaking of the defense, we are running out of adjectives to describe it. It’s absolutely insane how good this defense is. If this Wisconsin football team even had an average offense to work with, this team could easily be 7-0 or 6-1 and would probably be looked at as a College Football Playoff contender because of this defensive unit.
Coming into the game, the Badgers were ranked third in the NCAA in rushing yards allowed per game after being second to Georgia for most of the season. Playing Army the week before dropped them in the rankings because running is all they do. But they held the Boilermakers to negative 13 yards on the ground. Are you kidding me? That’s just ridiculous to hold a top 25 team on their own field in the negative in rushing yards.
After Week 8, the Badgers are now the top-run defense in the country, allowing just 53.3 yards a game. Georgia is number two, allowing 63.4, 10 more yards per game than the Badgers. The next closest team is UTSA with 79.4 yards per game. This Wisconsin defense is special.
Also, the only knock on this defense coming into the game against Purdue was the defense’s lack of ability to force turnovers. That all changed on Saturday. They forced five Purdue turnovers last week, recovering two fumbles and intercepting three passes. There aren’t many negative things you can say about this defense now.
The defense is going to have to continue playing the way they are if they want to beat Iowa next week and win the Big Ten West.
3. The passing game absolutely has to improve.
Now even though the running game has been nearly unstoppable and the defense is playing the way they are, the passing game still needs to get going. If the Badgers do end up running the table and winning the Big Ten West, they are going to need to be able to pass the ball in the Big Ten Championship.
You know what, before we even get ahead of ourselves, they are going to need to be able to pass the ball against Iowa on Saturday. Heading into the game this weekend, Iowa is 7th in the country in run defense, allowing just 89.7 yards per game. The Minnesota Gophers, who are also looming on the Wisconsin football schedule, are currently ranked fifth, allowing just 85.7 yards on the ground per game.
In other words, the Badgers probably aren’t going to be able to pass the ball just eight times in a game and win very often. This passing game needs to get going. We’ve analyzed this all season. Mertz certainly hasn’t been what we’d hoped for, but the playcalling and offensive line haven’t exactly been helping him either. Scheming receiver open and giving Mertz some easy passes to get into a rhythm just isn’t something we’ve seen a whole lot of this season.
Another concerning trend is how often Danny Davis has been involved in this offense. He is arguably one of the biggest playmakers on this offense. In the first three games, Davis has had 16 receptions for 193 yards. Since then, he’s played in four more games and has just two catches for 48 yards, all of which came against Army in Week 7. That means he’s gone without a reception in three out of the last four games. If you want a successful passing game, you have to get your best receiver the ball.
There’s a way to go with this passing offense, but if they can get things figured out, I think this team is going to be pretty dangerous, but so far there’s been no indication that they will be any sort of threat through the air.