Not only was Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line for Wisconsin today. With a win, Wisconsin is in the Big Ten Championship game next Saturday against Michigan. The Badgers came up short, ending their win streak and chance at the Big Ten Title. From the run game completely disappearing, to Paul Chryst being completely outcoached. Here are three things we learned from this game.
Targeting Rule Sucks
The targeting rule in college football needs a major overhaul. On the very first play, Collin Wilder came up to make a tackle when a Minnesota WR ducked his head and absorbed the contact. Although Collin did exactly what he’s taught to do, which is lead with the shoulder, the refs called targeting. I’m all for targeting being a rule, however the rule is in desperate need of a change. Aside from the flaws within the rule itself, kicking a player out of the game on the first play is cruel. I personally think either repeating offenders should be ejected, or your second of the game. Especially for a 6th year senior leader like Collin Wilder who is not a dirty player by any means. Former Badger players chimed in on Twitter with their thoughts.
Defense Can’t do it All
Turnovers have been a constant storyline of this season for the Badgers, whether it be in the losses or the wins. After the miserable start to the year and being a -9 turnover margin. During this win streak, the Badgers were a +11. Today the Badger defense even offered some points with a Scotty Nelson pick six for the first touchdown of the game!
Unfortunately, that would not be the only turnover of the game. Mertz was intercepted on the first drive in the second half giving the Gophers the ball on the 28 yard line. Which two plays later turned into a touchdown. Wisconsin’s defense has been the focal point during this win streak and all season. Today, the group seemed to run out of gas after the pick six. The offense did them no favors, only accounting for 6 points and 224 yards. Credit to Minnesota who legitimately has the best offensive line in the country. When the blitzing wasn’t working for the Badgers, the secondary had breakdowns. Not to mention, the struggles on 3rd down defense which was strange to see. Wisconsin came into the game allowing just 25% on 3rd downs and Minnesota was able to convert pivotal 3rd downs.
Wisconsin has run the ball effectively all season. Even with an injury to Chez Mellusi, freshman Braelon Allen picked up the slack with 7 straight games of 100+ rushing yards. Today was the first game we’ve seen the new run game struggle. It would come at a very costly moment with a trip to the Big Ten Championship on the line.
Quarterback Graham Mertz has been a rollercoaster this season. He has shown glimpses of great quarterback play, while also being the reason Wisconsin’s offense struggles. Mertz started the game hot and looked to be on pace for a great game.
However, when Paul Chryst became reliant on the pass game, Mertz struggled. It always seemed to be one step forward, two steps back. The interception in the 3rd quarter proved costly. With the Badgers driving down 7 in the 4th, Chryst called 9 straight passing plays. Mertz seemed to be in a groove, and on his way to tie the game. Then missed 3 consecutive throws and the drive would stall out, ending with a missed field goal.
Wisconsin’s offense failed to get in the end zone the entire afternoon. The frustrating offense day was highlighted when Coach Chryst lined up to punt the ball on 4th and 1 with just over 4 minutes left in the game down two scores. Amid the confusion with this call, Wisconsin commited a false start. Chryst then changed his mind to go for it but in the process lost 5 yards and a timeout.
Although it was a disappointing end to the regular season, it was impressive that Wisconsin was in this position. Let’s look forward to the bowl game and sending off these seniors the right way.
However, when it comes to the offseason, some serious questions need to be answered. Is Graham Mertz the QB for the future? Is Paul Chryst’s time at Wisconsin done?