PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 06 : Head coach Paul Chryst of the Wisconsin Badgers talks with quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Wisconsin defeated Rutgers 52-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

No. 19 Wisconsin vs. Washington State: What to watch for

No. 19 Wisconsin vs. Washington State: What to watch for

Madison, Wis. – The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers will play host to the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, September 10, at Camp Randall Stadium.

Following a convincing 38-0 victory over the Illinois State Redbirds, the Badgers will look to keep the momentum going and remain undefeated in non-conference play.

Here are some items worth watching in week two.

How does Graham Mertz follow up an impressive week 1?

Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) celebrates following a touchdown during the third quarter against the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Graham Mertz heads into Saturday’s showdown coming off an impressive showing in week one. Against Illinois State, the redshirt junior completed 14-of-16 pass attempts for 219 yards and a touchdown. Mertz showed poise in the pocket and evenly distributed the ball among his teammates.

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game, Mertz will undoubtedly be a player to watch. After sub-par performances the past two seasons, the Kansas native showed signs of improvement in the first game of the 2022 season.

Now, he’ll need to build on his strong outing and work towards becoming a more consistent QB. Also, look for receivers such as Chimere Dike and Markus Allen to build off their three-catch performances in week one.

It was a small sample size, but the third-year starter appeared to thrive under new Badgers offensive coordinator Bobby Engram’s system.

If you keep an eye on any single player this weekend, Mertz is an excellent place to start.

How does Wisconsin Badgers rushing attack look against a Power 5 school?

Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi looked sharp in week one. Now 18 years of age, Allen looked even more impressive than last season in Madison. The Wisconsin native put together an impressive stat line of 14 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns. The Badgers’ RB1 didn’t miss a beat in the first game.

Mellusi, who missed the final four games of the 2021 season due to a torn ACL, looked solid in his first game back. The Clemson transfer carried the ball 10 times for 48 yards in the season opener. Despite no longer being the number one option, Mellusi showed plenty of promise and will likely be given a heavy workload this season behind Allen.

Wisconsin is known for breeding star running backs, and with the one-two punch of Allen and Mellusi, the Badgers will have a strong backfield again this season.

For the Badgers to stay perfect through their first two games, they’ll need the running back room to do what they do best in week two.

Will the defense get off to a fast start?

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard looks on in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Against Illinois State, the Badgers’ defense started a bit sluggish. While John Torchio’s pick-six was the spark that gave UW’s defense a boost of confidence, the slow start was a bit unexpected for one of the nation’s best. Jim Leonhard lost eight defensive starters from the Grit Factory, so Wisconsin is understandably still sorting things out.

The question is, can the defense come out with a sense of urgency in week two?

Players like Nick Herbig and Maema Njongmeta had impressive showings in week one. The linebackers combined for 12 tackles, three TFLs, and two sacks. Expect these players to be key contributors once again as they look to cause mayhem against Washington State.

Another question for the defense is who will step up after an injury to starting safety Hunter Wohler?

The free safety suffered a leg injury against Illinois State and won’t play on Saturday. Kamo’i Latu and Preston Zachman are the most likely candidates to help fill the void, but it’s currently unknown who will start.

Against Illinois State, Zachman registered two tackles and an interception, while Latu recorded one tackle and a pass deflection.

Both players showed promise and will undoubtedly be players to watch on Saturday.

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