To say the Wisconsin Badgers beat down the Michigan Wolverines Saturday night does not do the result justice. The Badgers throttled the Wolverines, 49-11, in the Big House, on prime time. First, Bucky shook off all signs of rust and hammered Jim Harbaugh’s desperate squad, exploding for a 28-0 halftime lead. Moreover, this game was competitive for just five minutes of game time. Once Wolverines quarterback Joe Milton rolled right and threw his first pass resulting in an interception, they never recovered. Wisconsin more than doubled the Wolverine’s yardage total, and dominated each facet of the game leading to the emphatic score line.
So what gives going forward for this iteration of Wisconsin football?
Here’s What We Learned
- Mertz Mania. It is a thing. The redshirt Freshman was rusty and it showed early, as he hadn’t even practiced for the last three weeks. However, after settling in he made easy work in the limited time he was asked to do anything. If anything, we learned about an underrated ability in Mertz’s tool box, his pocket presence. Moving forward, Wisconsin’s star QB can lead the Badgers to heights previously never seen before.
- Jalen Berger has arrived. Badger fans waited patiently for the super hyped freshman to make his debut in the Badgers run game. Whilst having unfair expectations placed upon him to replace Jonathan Taylor, Berger showcased his own talent in a very good opening performance. In all, he had 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown on the ground, coupled with a few catches out of the backfield. Berger has all the tools to be a phenomenal running back in Madison. Combine him with the power of Nakia Watson, and the do everything Garrett Groshek, Wisconsin has quietly recreated an all purpose backfield capable of giving opposing defenses fits.
- The jet sweep is alive and well. As the Badgers didn’t need to throw the ball much, they still felt the need to get their wide receivers involved. Whether it was Danny Davis III, Kendric Pryor, or freshman Chimere Dike, they combined for over 1oo yards on the ground.
- To nit pick, the Badgers still seemed to struggle at times with their run game inside the tackles. The jet sweeps and play action success helped open things up inside eventually, but there were some noticeable struggles. This is very nit picky, but it will have to be cleaned up if they want to succeed vs say, Ohio State.
- Jim Leonhard’s Defense is Ready. Coming off a two week bye, missing multiple starters, it would’ve been safe to assume there would be rust on the defensive side. Wrong. The Badger D started off their first two possessions picking off Milton, leading to touchdowns by the offense. The run defense looked every bit as stingy, allowing just 47 yards on 19 carries. The secondary limited talented Michigan wideouts to mostly garbage time action, and just 172 yards overall.
- Nelson and Herbig Shine. Junior safety Scott Nelson and freshman OLB Nick Herbig shone brightly Saturday night. Nelson picked off Milton’s first pass with the help of fellow safety Eric Burrell, and played great downhill in Michigan’s run game early on. Herbig carried his great first performance into Ann Arbor, finishing with three tackles for loss. He looks every bit like the next great Badgers OLB.
- Not all was rosy however. The pass rush outside of Herbig was notably lacking. The Badgers were missing some in their front 7, most notably Garrett Rand, but it is still of note to have just one sack. That will not be sustainable if the Badgers were to play the aforementioned Buckeyes.
- In all, a truly outstanding performance from an undermanned unit. Paul Chyrst must know his days with Leonhard as DC are numbered, as it will be soon time that he gets his own head coaching job.
In terms of ranking, the College Football Playoff’s initial rankings don’t come out till next week. As for the AP and Coaches Poll, the Badgers may end up around spot 10 after Miami and Oregon both struggled to victories.
The Badgers have just four games remaining, five if you include the crossover week. Next up, at Northwestern. Historically, playing at Ryan Field has been a nightmare for the Badgers. This is noted in our schedule analysis, right here. The Wildcats come in 4-0, and know a win here could cement them a trip to the Big Ten Championship game. Chryst will have his guys ready, as this sets up to be the most crucial game of the season.