MINNEAPOLIS – A clash between two of the Big Ten Conference’s best defenses has so far lived up to the bill between the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The Badgers’ defense is the game’s strongest unit so far, with senior safety Scott Nelson’s 6th pick being the only touchdown in a 10-6 game so far. A half marred by eight combined penalties ended with the Badgers in the lead but bemoaning a few missed opportunities.
Here are three observations from the first half.
Penalties make it difficult
UW isn’t doing themselves a ton of favors with their game while being umpired by a happy flag crew.
The Badgers have been reported five times for 43 yards, including once in the red zone and once on special teams that pushed offense to the 8-yard line in opening practice. Full-back John Chenal was called on a questionable detention penalty to cancel a big run from Braelon Allen and senior left tackle Tyler Beach made a false start.
Cleaner play will help UW take the referees out of the game.
The shaky badger defense to begin with
Things didn’t get much better for the defense after senior safety Collin Wilder was sent off for targeting the first scrimmage game. Minnesota led 14 plays for 65 yards to score a field goal. It was the second time all season, but for the second game in a row, the opponent scored on the first drive against UW. Northwestern entered the red zone against UW in the first series two weeks ago, but an interception kept him from playing.
The pass rush doesn’t come home against Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan despite some of the inside linebacker rushes that have been so effective for UW this season. The Badgers need to find a way to make Morgan uncomfortable, whether it’s another blitzer or attacking from different angles.
Mertz’s failures are costly
UW quarterback Graham Mertz had a top-down halftime. He brings in multiple receivers because his top three spreaders all have catches, and he’s 11 of 15 for 79 yards, but he missed two crucial attempts that cost UW points.
He didn’t get enough of a pass to Chimere Dike in the end zone that could have been a touchdown after Dike split, and Mertz missed a pass in the middle of Danny Davis that could have been a big play as well. Minnesota didn’t have a man deeper than 10 yards on the right side of the field, and Davis would have had a run to the end zone.
Mertz could have a big second half if he makes it up a bit more.
Here’s a look at the Badgers injury situation at halftime.
Banned before the match
UW does not provide reasons for players not being available in its status reports.
WR AJ Abbott
RB Jackson Acker
TE Hayden Rucci
K Jack Van Dyke
Follow all the actions from the second half below: