The coverage leading up to this game has me fired up. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish beat has already started buying funeral wreaths, the national guys can’t be bothered to write anything more than the the most superficial of platitudes, and here I am — yelling at the neighborhood kids about how Wisconsin has lost six straight games to AP Top-25 opponents.
Maybe this is all some elaborate game by the press, so you know what? Let’s make our own game out of it. It’s time to be a villain.
Have you actually ever sat down and played Myst? It’s regarded as a classic computer game, it’s highly reviewed, and a staple of the era. I gotta tell you though… that game freakin’ sucked the big one. Boring, slow and wholly undeserving of the attention it garners — much like the Wisconsin Badgers offense. Have you ever actually sat down and watched the Wisconsin offense recently? It’s regarded as a smashmouth, powerful operation, and a staple of the Big Ten. I gotta tell you though… that offense freakin’ sucks the big one. Boring, slow and wholly undeserving of the attention it garners.
I went through over the last week and watched every offensive snap of the Graham Mertz era and came away wildly unimpressed. You know, that smashmouth, power running game they advertise? It’s not a thing, not since Johnathon Taylor moved on anyway. In six of their last nine games they’ve failed to rush for more than four yards per carry. Only against Michigan, and their 95th ranked rushing defense, have they been able to muster more than 182 yards against power five opponents. The reputation that they are a power run team just doesn’t line up with reality. This is a team that has struggled to move the ball on the ground. Which wouldn’t be a huge issue if they had a complementary pass game to open up the field right? About that…
Graham Mertz was the highest rated quarterback to ever commit to the Badgers. So ballyhooed was he, that he Wally Pipped 10 game winner Jack Coan. Mertz came on like gangbusters in his first start last year against Illinois, throwing for 5 touchdowns. He’s thrown just four touchdowns since and in the last seven games, he has thrown just two touchdowns to go with seven picks. He’s never thrown for over 250 yards in a game and this season, he’s thrown just four passes that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
It’s no wonder that when you look at Wisconsin over the last year, they’ve failed to eclipse 10 points four times. They aren’t very potent running the ball, and their passing game is mostly non-existent. This season, they have just ten trips to the redzone, and walked away with only five scores (four were TDs). That’s not going to get it down both in terms of limited trips and limited success.
I could make this about recruiting rankings if I wanted because there is certainly a cavernous difference. In regards to that:
I am speaking more toward who are the best players in this game and what kind of impact they will have on Saturday. If you were to simply compare each position grouping between these two teams, how many would you give Wisconsin the advantage? Offensive line seems like it’s about it. Jack Coan is a better QB than Graham Mertz, Graham Mertz might be able to make “all the throws” but Coan has proven that he is vastly superior at making the “right throws”.
Kyren and Tyree are better than the ChezBurger combo meal.
Hell, Wisconsin’s best player, Jake Ferguson, won’t even be the best TE on the field. Defensively, Foskey and Bertrand highlight a front 7 that is better than Wisconsin’s. You can’t tell me that if Drew White didn’t play for Wisconsin, and put up his kind of career numbers, he wouldn’t get the same kind of conference accolades as Jack Sanborn or Leo Chenal? I’ll be the first to admit that Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin had rough games against Purdue, the drops were an issue. I fully expect them to come into this game focused, and if you’re giving me the option of those two or Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor — it’s not even a question who I’d take.
And then there’s the matter of Kyle Hamilton...
Villain De Jour
If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy 7, you’ll know that you know that Sephiroth is simply better than you and your team. He’s constantly a step ahead, and is perhaps the most imposing villain in all of video games. There’s no bigger impact player this Saturday than Kyle Hamilton, and he’s going to make himself felt like a meteor crashing into Solider Field.
Likely, Hamilton will be tasked with covering Wisconsin’s best player, tight end Jake Ferguson. Star players make big plays in big games, and for Hamilton, he’s looking across at a QB with a penchant for throwing the ball to opposing safeties. I fully expect to see Graham Mertz try to force a pass to Ferguson on Saturday that Kyle makes him regret. If it wasn’t for an ACC replay official deciding to wait just one more day before cataracts surgery, Kyle would have had a pick in each game this season.
That trend of picks continues.