There’s no sugar coating it; the performance from this Wisconsin football team against Penn State — specifically the offense — was ugly, to say the least.
This Wisconsin offense would sputter down in the red zone on several occasions and fail to score. They turned the ball over three times and were just 7/22 on third downs.
Graham Mertz has taken a lot of flack for his performance — and understandably so — but the usually stout Wisconsin offensive line wasn’t very good either and contributed to a number of the issues that we saw. In fact, over the course of the game, the Badgers had eight different offensive linemen take snaps in an effort to find some sort of continuity.
But that was also the first game of the season, and it was against a good Penn State football team. That isn’t meant to be an excuse, the Badgers absolutely should have been better, and they gave this game away, but it is worth mentioning.
This week, however, presents the Wisconsin football team with an opportunity to get back on track as Eastern Michigan comes to Camp Randall.
Eastern Michigan did win their Week 1 matchup against St. Francis, a school out of Pennsylvania, but this is an Eagles’ defense that struggled mightily last season.
This unit gave up 5.3 yards per carry in 2020, 241.5 rushing yards per game — which ranked 119th in all of college football — and their 1.5 sacks per game ranked 104th. The Eagles also allowed 248.8 passing yards per game, ranking 86th in that category, and allowed a completion rate of 70.6 percent, per PFF.
While, yes, those are last year’s numbers, as Abby Schnable of the Wisconsin State Journal points out, Eastern Michigan is returning 10 starters on defense from last season and their top-15 tacklers. It’s reasonable to assume that there will be some improvement, but how much?
These defensive issues are, of course, good news for the Wisconsin offensive line that allowed 14 pressures, according to PFF ($$). Although running back Chez Mellusi was able to have success, his offensive line didn’t do him a ton of favors either.
Mertz should also be a benefit greatly. Last week he completed just 59 percent of his 37 targets and averaged only 5.0 yards per play. At least last season, this was an Eastern Michigan secondary that opposing quarterbacks were incredibly efficient against. With better play from the Badger offensive line, Mertz should have more time in the pocket as well–and that is always a good thing, especially for a young quarterback.
Two players on this Wisconsin offense poised for big games are Melluis, for the reasons mentioned above, and receiver Danny Davis, who had a sneaky good game against Penn State, catching eight of his 10 targets for 99 yards. And hopefully, by the time the clock hits zero on Saturday, Mertz is included in this group as well.
As I said, last week was ugly from an offensive standpoint, but the Badgers’ offense has a ‘get right’ game in front of them against Eastern Michigan. Hopefully, we will see improved play from the offensive line and Mertz, which will allow Wisconsin to carry some positive momentum into the bye week where they can continue to dial things in.