It is a bit of a down year for Wisconsin, but is it down enough they could lose to Purdue? I talked to Drew Hamm of Bucky's 5th Quarter to find out more about this year’s edition of the Badgers.
T-Mill: The ground game has gotten better in recent weeks, which scares me. Who is the latest back to run for 230 yards and 3 TDs on us?
Drew: Much like last year, there isn’t one particular running back that will strike fear into the heart of defenses all over the midwest. There is no Jonathan Taylor, Melvin Gordon or Montee Ball this year. Hell, there isn’t even a Jalen Berger, who most fans thought would be the starting RB for Wisconsin this year, as he was dismissed from the team last week.
So, what do we have? Well, Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi has been a solid, if unspectacular, ball carrier this year and leads the team with 543 rushing yards (90.5 per game, 4.8 per carry). Of late, he has been sharing carries with 17-year old freshman Braelon Allen who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 238 pounds. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week has rushed for 288 yards (6.3 ypc, 57.6 ypg) and three touchdowns.
To be honest, I’d be quite surprised if the Badgers gained 230 yards on the ground total, let alone one player doing so.
T-Mill: The passing game has not done any favors at all in terms of balance. Is Wisconsin’s offense a worse version of Iowa?
Drew: ::deep inhale:: So here’s the thing...Graham Mertz has not been good this year. The offensive line has not been good this year. The play calling has not been good, nor creative, due to the aforementioned things being not good. Mertz has thrown seven interceptions (to only two touchdowns) and has fumbled the ball, conservatively, one million times. He isn’t all to blame though! The offensive line is coasting off the reputation of Wisconsin o-lines of the past. They haven’t been good in pass protection and even if Mertz doesn’t get sacked, he usually doesn’t have a clean pocket from which to throw.
So yeah, I don’t know, Wisconsin is AT BEST equal to Iowa’s offense.
T-Mill: The defense is very, very strong though. What is the secret? Has Wisconsin really faced a good passing team yet?
Drew: The Wisconsin defense is excellent. They only have one weakness that has been exploited and that is: they are liable to give up big pass plays over the top. Purdue doesn’t have any receivers that can do that right? Ok, moving on to the next questi...what’s that?
Well, David Bell is going to be a problem for UW and they are going to need to slow him down (because they sure as shit won’t be able to stop him) in order to have a chance to win. The Badgers haven’t really faced a great passing team yet and have still given up big plays through the air. Hell, even Army hit a couple last week.
I don’t think Purdue will be able to consistently move the ball through the air, and they definitely won’t be able to move it on the ground, but there will be a long Bell touchdown pass (or two) that could shift the tides of what I expect to be a tight game.
T-Mill: What is holding Graham Mertz back and what does he need to have a breakout game?
Drew: I touched on this a little bit in question two, but Mertz seems to be having a crisis of confidence. He doesn’t get much time in the pocket, because the offensive line is stinky, and so he locks on to one wide receiver and will try to throw it there even if that guy is covered. The playbook also seems to be missing a few (dozen) pages because multiple (MULTIPLE!) teams that Wisconsin has faced this year have noted that they could tell what plays were coming because they had already been run before during the game.
Mertz is talented, there is no question about that, and he also has talented receivers surrounding him but he just hasn’t been able to get everything to click so far this season. The Badgers will absolutely need to have a couple of early plays that move the pocket and get Mertz easy throws outside the hashes to try and get his confidence up.
If that doesn’t happen, George Karlaftis and co. are going to have a freaking field day.
T-Mill: What stands out on special teams that can be a difference maker?
Drew: Wisconsin’s punt returners don’t know when/where to call a fair catch. I’d wager Purdue will gain 15 yards of field position because whoever is back there for the Badgers will fair catch the ball at the five yard line like a ding-dong. Kick coverage has also been subpar this season.
T-Mill: Is this Purdue’s best chance to end the 14 game losing streak to the Badgers?
Drew: Yeah, this is definitely Purdue’s best chance to beat Wisconsin in the last 15 tries. Last year probably would’ve been even better but, well, you know...COVID. Every logical part of my brain tells me that Wisconsin is going to lose this game, but I still am going to predict a 20-17 Badgers win because Aidan O’Connell has more turnovers than Mertz.
NOBODY TAKE A SCREENSHOT OF THIS AND SEND IT TO ME ON SATURDAY NIGHT!