A new era in Wisconsin Badger football has begun. Under interim head coach Jim Leonhard, the Badgers traveled to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Coming off an embarrassing loss to Illinois, Wisconsin had to respond. They did in a major way, taking down Northwestern 42-7. Here’s three things from the win.
New Look Offense
The offense looked completely rejuvenated from the start of this game. Although the first drive ended with a missed field goal, the offense followed it up with a 98 yard touchdown drive that ended with a Skylar Bell touchdown. After last week against Illinois, who would’ve thought a week later we would have seen a 98 yard drive led mostly by Graham Mertz arm.
One thing I really liked about Bobby Engram’s approach today was happening on first down. Everyone expects the badgers to run on that down, but today to start the game Graham was 5/5 on first down throws with 62 yards and a touchdown. Mixing it up and avoiding 3rd and long is the key to this offense’s success. In 18 drives last week, the Badgers offense had 209 yards. In 3 drives today, they had 206.
What a first half for both Graham Mertz and Chimere Dike. Their second touchdown connection had Mertz looking like a young Russell Wilson, avoiding the rush and throwing a little floater on the move. Makes you wonder, is it a coincidence that Mertz was letting it fly the very first game after Paul Chryst was fired? Bobby Engram seemed to be letting Mertz loose this afternoon. Dike would finish his career day with 10 catches for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns.
What a play. pic.twitter.com/mOYmx3b9e9
— Ben Kenney (@benzkenney) October 8, 2022
One thing that this offense doesn’t need is the wildcat. Wisconsin tried it a couple times today including a 3rd and short and didn’t come close to picking up the first. If you are going to run wildcat, at least put Mellusi in the backfield with Allen. Then, there is at least the threat of a read option. Like they did later in the game, where Braelon Allen threw a touchdown to Chez Mellusi on 3rd down out of the wildcat. Let’s keep that one for when we are up 21 against Northwest. At least the guys were having fun!
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 8, 2022
I can go on and on about this offense today. You could tell from the start of the game you could feel a different energy about this group. Bobby Engram was on the field instead of the booth, we saw jet sweeps, wildcat, pistol, RPO’s and an offense that scored 42 points and went 10/14 on third down. Over 300 yards passing and just shy of 200 yards rushing. Complete domination from this offense.
Graham Mertz the first QB in school history with multiple five touchdown games.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 8, 2022
Line of Scrimmage Dominance
Not only has the offensive line been criticized for their lack of push off the ball. A lot of attention has been put on the front seven of Wisconsin’s defense and their shortcomings. Today, from the very first snap you saw a much better push from the offensive line and front 7 against the run.
Keeanu Benton was in the backfield almost every play, and on the Badgers first forced turnover of the day, Nick Herbig was bringing the heat. In the first half Wisconsin’s defense gave up just 18 yards rushing thanks to the front seven. Stopping the run on early downs, which leads to long 3rd downs where the pass rush can let loose is the best recipe for success with this defensive group.
Nick Herbig made an amazing play that forced a fumble to yet again stop a Northwestern drive in Badger territory. The defense as a whole came away with 3 turnovers today.
The front seven is dealing with some major injury issues though. Isaiah Mullens was out today, and late in the first half Keeanu Benton had to be helped off the field. Gotta keep the big guys up front healthy.
#Badgers Keeanu Benton is on the UW sideline, in full uniform, walking around. Injury does not appear serious.
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) October 8, 2022
Jim Leonhard Head Coach?
I can’t remember the last time an interim coach took over and was the immediate favorite for the job. It seems like the other staff want him, the players want him, and the fans certainly want him.
What a good start to the Jim Leonhard era. It seems like Jim can still call the defense and be able to manage the game. I really hope that Bobby Engram sticks around with coach Leonhard, because if the offense can look half as good as they did today, Wisconsin will return to atop of the West. I would love these two coaches going forward for Wisconsin football.
I’m curious to see the thought’s of Wisconsin fans and if they want Leonhard to stick around and be the new face of the Wisconsin football program. Comment below what you think!
Quick thoughts and prayers go out to Cedrick Dort Jr who had a scary injury early in the third quarter.
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