Michigan football heads up to Camp Randall to do battle with the Wisconsin Badgers, a game that many expect to be an old school slugfest.
Wisconsin sits at 1-2 on the year with a win over Eastern Michigan, while losing to Penn State and Notre Dame. 4-0 Michigan needs to rattle out a win at Wisconsin for the first time since 2001 if they want to remain undefeated.
We spoke with Tyler Hunt from SB Nation’s Bucky’s 5th Quarter to preview the matchup. You can find the podcast conversation, as well as excerpts from the pod below.
Thoughts on Wisconsin’s season
I think right now, you’re you feel really good about the defense. I think this defense is incredibly strong and will be the same Wisconsin defense that people are used to seeing year in and year out.
But this offense it’s really hard to have a grasp on where they’re at. It’s not necessarily anything too crazy or too deep. It’s it’s poor quarterback play and just hanging on to the football right now. It’s been an extreme struggle for that. And it’s hard to really get a gauge on where a team is offensively when you’re giving the football away left and right.
Things are certainly bleak right now, but it’s going to be interesting to keep an eye on how this thing turns around or if it turns around, because right now it certainly has not been pretty.
Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz’s struggles
For a lot of fans, is this thing going to turn around or is it going to keep going? Because I think Wisconsin right now in terms of the quarterback situation is a little bit, I don’t want to say stuck — because you want to play the highest rated quarterback to ever come to Wisconsin. So you’re going to play with him and ride through the ups and downs. In terms of the backup, Chase Wolf, is a kid that’s older and I think he has 12 pass attempts and three of them have been intercepted. It’s not really a situation where you can just turn to somebody else.
I think you’re going to ride with Graham Mertz. Last year he kind of tailed off and I was kind of called the Graham Mertz apologists at our site, because there was a lot of different factors in play. The offensive line was dealing with a ton of COVID last year, all of the big receivers and tight end Jake Ferguson were banged up, the play calling was somewhat suspect.
This year, play calling went back under Paul Chryst, the head coach, he’s of course, a former quarterback for Wisconsin — knows the position well so you expected him to take a step forward. And so far, I think you’ve seen a step back. I personally am not holding my breath that it’s got to turn around. You hope it does, but either way, I think they’re in a situation right now with what the quarterback room is that you’re going to ride it out for better or for worse through sickness and in health with the kid you’ve got.
The biggest thing is trying to get some confidence in him. I think when you look at his mechanics, his foot works all over the place. He seems like a one read quarterback right now. Those things are things you’ve got to progress beyond
It was early in his career, he was young, he had enough excuses, but now that the excuses have kind of gotten sour in a lot of people’s mouth that it’s time to either move forward or really start hopefully seeing something better. Or maybe the ship’s going down with the quarterback play.
Wisconsin’s rushing attack
The mark of 33rd is good for most teams. I think Wisconsin would definitely want to see, based on their tradition, and the way they like to play a little bit higher. I know coming into last week, they were first in time of possession by almost a couple more minutes than a triple option team like Army. It’s clear that they want to hang onto the football and have these long methodical drives to put points on the board. And that’s a great game plan if it works. The struggle is if you give away the ball four or five times, stall out in the red zone a couple of times, that really hampers your ability to put points on the board.
I do like what I’ve seen from the run game so far this season. Coming into the year it was expected to be a two-headed attack with Jalen Berger, who played a lot last year, and former Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi. So far, Mellusi’s been the guy and Jalen Berger has kind of tailed off — did not play at all in the first game, which was a big surprise to Wisconsin fans and really hasn’t seen the field all that much. It’s mostly been Chez Mellusi, he’s been really solid.
I think the run game, the concerns right now are upfront with the offensive line. I don’t think the line is quite where they want to be in terms of traditional Wisconsin offensive lines. Offensive line coach Joe Rudolph has rotated in a lot of different guys on the line so far this year. Multiple guys rotating in and out sometimes almost like a hockey shift. And I don’t really love that style of play. I think it’s hard for the linemen to get into rhythm for the running backs to really find those gaps. The running the game is — could it be better? It’s been okay. But if you’re going to play that way, in terms of the passing game, you’re running’s going to have to be really solid to give you any sort of chance.
We’ll have to see just how that game plan works, but I would expect Wisconsin to just try and ground and pound it and hang on for dear life.
I think the defense has been phenomenal. I mean, Jim Leonhard, the defensive coordinator has been just an absolute gem since she’s came over to the Badgers. Even before that, Justin Wilcox, Dave Maranda, really had solid defense, but it seems like he’s taken this group to another level.
The defensive line has been really good, nose tackle Keaanu Benton has just been a dominating force, takes on a ton of blocks, which opens up a lot of lanes for the linebackers, like Jack Sanborn and Nick Herbig — A couple of guys that may be Michigan fans are familiar with. The front seven has been awesome and I don’t really expect that to change all that much. I think this group is playing really cohesive. And then last week they got another member of that group back in probably their best and most havoc creating defender and Leo Chenal, the other inside linebacker. He was out the first two games due to COVID. He played really well against Notre Dame.
The secondary has been the one spot that’s been a little iffy. They got hit for some big plays versus Penn state and Johan Dotson got behind the safeties. I think a lot of that was just communication and the first game jitters. Against Notre Dame, they really cleaned that up.
It’s really gonna come down to how this run defense, if it’s a stout as it looks to be — Michigan’s passing game going against that Wisconsin secondary that has had a couple of blips in the radar, but overall been pretty solid. It’s probably going to be the deciding factor in this one.
Faion Hicks, one of their top corners, was a little bit banged up in that Notre Dame game. Played a phenomenal game. Not sure if he’s going to go this week. So, there’s maybe one spot of concern, but overall I think this front seven is going to be as good as they bet all year.
Thoughts on Cade McNamara
I know Cade McNamara’s been solid in the throws he’s had to make. I think if you’re a Badger fan, you’re looking at Michigan right now and the quarterback situation. And you’d probably say, ‘man, if Wisconsin just had what Cade McNamara is doing’, they’re probably in a 3-0 spot coming into this game because he’s hung onto the football.
Environment at Camp Randall
Anytime you’re getting someone in Camp Randall it’s always going to give you at least a little bit of a boost. The other thing, it is Barry Alvarez day on Saturday, they’re honoring him. The crowd should be packed and raucous. Unfortunately, it’s once again that 11:00 AM start, which is hard for the student section sometimes to get all their drinks in before they get to the stadium. The environment should certainly be loud.
Michigan and Wisconsin, up until last year, of course, it’s kind of gone to the home team. So I think that’s the one spot where if you’re Wisconsin, you’re thinking, okay, if the defense can play the way they have.
Thoughts on the game
Offense, you have to eventually hope that these numbers are going to turn around and you’re able to hang on to the football and just try and put some points on the board and win it with your defense. Michigan hasn’t really turned the ball over. Maybe you try and hope for that to turn around. If you’re a Badger fan, I think you’re just trying to cling to your defense playing well.
I don’t necessarily feel great about the game, I do like that it’s in Camp Randall and you hope that it turns around. I think it’s going to be one low scoring slugfest type of game. Michigan has ran the ball really well. I can’t imagine that they’re just going to abandon what has worked for them. That test is going to be a fun one. That big matchup between the Wisconsin front side and the Michigan run game is going to be fun to watch.