The Wisconsin Badgers have received some more excellent news. Yesterday, Chez Mellusi announced he will be returning for the 2023 season. This was huge for the Badgers, as they will hold on to their dynamic duo of Braelon Allen and Mellusi.
Mellusi was not the only senior who will return. In news reported by Zach Heilprin, cornerback Alexander Smith announced he will return for a sixth season.
CB Alexander Smith said he will return for a sixth season at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Badgers cornerback Alexander Smith announces he will return for the 2023 season
Smith’s return is big for the Badgers, as Wisconsin has three senior cornerbacks leaving the program. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound cornerback has appeared in 41 games in his time with the Badgers.
Smith was held out for the beginning of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury, making his first appearance in week seven against Michigan State. Since his return, Smith has logged ten tackles and one pass breakup.
The California native has been a key contributor to Wisconsin’s pass defense in his five years with the program. Since joining UW, Smith has registered 29 tackles, five pass breakups, and one interception. He also made his mark on special teams early in his playing career with a blocked kick in the 2019 season.
As stated previously, the Badgers will lose three senior cornerbacks in 2023. Cornerbacks Jay Shaw, Cedrick Dort, and Justin Clark will play their final game at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday against Minnesota. With Smith announcing his return, he will be the chief CB in 2023.
Smith has been a productive player in his time with the Badgers. Now that he is running it back for a sixth year, he will be a key player to watch on Wisconsin’s defense.
Oct 1, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers line up for a play during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Wisconsin Badgers (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) suffered a devastating overtime loss to the Michigan State Spartans (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon. Losing 34-28, the Badgers couldn’t notch their second consecutive victory.
Here are the studs and duds from Saturday afternoon’s loss.
The Wisconsin Badgers run defense
In a game where the Badgers had difficulty stopping the pass (we’ll get to that later), the defensive front held their own. Former Badgers running back Jalen Berger was given the bulk of the carries on Saturday, and the Badgers did well with containing the run.
Berger posted a stat line of 16 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown. Michigan State’s number two back, Elijah Collins, was also limited on the ground. The senior back notched 43 yards on 14 carries. Best of all, Michigan State’s longest rush was just 12 yards. All in all, the Spartans rushed for just 99 yards, a testament to Wisconsin’s sound run defense.
Thanks largely to Tatum Grass and Maema Njongmeta finishing with career-highs in tackles, the Badgers limited the Spartans’ rushing attack.
It was hard to find other studs in this game, so let’s move on to the duds.
After a five-touchdown performance against Northwestern, Mertz struggled to dominate through the air against MSU.
The redshirt junior posted only 123 yards on 14 completions with two touchdowns and an interception. Mertz did come through in overtime with a big touchdown pass to Chimere Dike, but his contributions were below expectations before that. To be fair to Mertz, Wisconsin’s offensive line did not do him any favors. Mertz was given very little time in the pocket and was sacked three times in Saturday’s contest.
Against a poor MSU secondary, this performance was a bit unexpected from the Badgers’ QB1. Looking towards next weekend, Mertz will face another poor secondary in Purdue. Here’s to hoping he turns it around.
The Wisconsin Badgers passing defense
One of the biggest disappointments on Saturday was Wisconsin’s pass defense. The Badgers allowed 290 yards through the air at the hands of MSU quarterback Payton Thorne.
Thorne notched 21 completions in the game and threw two touchdowns on Saturday. Wisconsin’s secondary was flat-out carved up on Saturday. Despite getting some insurance in the secondary with cornerback Alexander Smith returning to action, Wisconsin’s secondary didn’t have enough in the tank.
The connection between Thorne and wide receiver Jayden Reed was unstoppable toward the end of the game. The game-winning touchdown was caught by Reed against Ricardo Hallman. Hallman was targeted multiple times at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Badgers’ secondary simply didn’t deliver on Saturday and will be challenged against Purdue next Saturday.
The Badgers’ second-half performance
Wisconsin ended the first half leading 14-7. Although the Badgers held the lead, their first-half performance was a bit sluggish. In total, Wisconsin put up 141 yards of offense, 83 of which came from Braelon Allen. Allen also put up both of the Badgers’ first-half touchdowns.
In the second half, things got worse for the Badgers as they put up just 138 yards of offense. The Badgers punted on all but one of their drives. Luckily, Andy Vujnovich did very well on his punts, with his longest being a 60-yard bomb.
The Badgers also committed six penalties in the second half after committing just two in the first. To put it plainly, the Badgers beat themselves on Saturday with mistake after mistake in the second half.
Wisconsin will look to right the ship against Purdue next weekend. With the Boilermakers’ dynamic offense, it will be challenging for the Badgers to get back into the win column.
Nov 20, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) hands the football off to running back Braelon Allen (0) during the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Wisconsin Badgers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) will hit the road for the second time this season to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (1-4, 1-1 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon.
The Badgers are heading into Saturday’s matchup coming off of a tough loss to Illinois. Additionally, they will play their first game under the direction of interim head coach Jim Leonhard.
Here are some key items to watch for in week six:
How will the Wisconsin Badgers look under new leadership?
The Badgers moved on from Paul Chryst on Sunday night after a brutal loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini. UW’s Athletic Director, Chris McIntosh, has appointed defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard as the interim head coach.
The staff shakeup caused plenty of discussion between the Wisconsin faithful and the players. Key contributors such as Braelon Allen and Nick Herbig voiced their support for the former head coach. Now under new leadership, an essential item to watch will be how Wisconsin responds.
Jim Leonhard has been an excellent coach at UW. After stepping in as the defensive backs coach in 2016, he quickly stepped into the defensive coordinator role just one year later. Under Leonhard’s direction, the Wisconsin defense has had some of its best years. The Badgers have reached a top 10 rating in total defense in four of his five years as defensive coordinator. He’s also shown excellent leadership and coaching ability on defense, and he is now given the opportunity to lead the team.
With Leonhard stepping in, be on the lookout to see how the Badgers perform on Saturday. Will the change of leadership cause them to take a step forward or continue on their backslide?
Will the secondary bounce back after a poor performance in week five?
Wisconsin’s defense has performed below the preseason expectations. One of the most concerning groups on that end has been the secondary.
Against the Fighting Illini, the Badger’s secondary allowed 167 yards through the air and made a few costly penalties that allowed Illinois to run up the score. In week six, UW will need the secondary to perform at a much higher level.
Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski is a gunslinger. The junior quarterback has averaged a whopping 44 pass attempts per game. Hilinski has thrown for 1,429 yards this season, giving him the 19th most passing yards in the nation.
Northwestern struggles to run the ball effectively, averaging just 119 yards per game on the ground. If the Badgers shut down the run game, we may see a large number of pass attempts from Hilinski.
The Badger’s secondary will need to force mistakes through the air. Hilinski has a poor touchdown to interception ratio, posting six touchdowns and four interceptions through five games. UW must take advantage of this opportunity and make this a get-right game for the secondary.
Luckily, Wisconsin will get some insurance in the secondary this weekend. According to Jim Leonhard, cornerback Alexander Smith is set to make his season debut this weekend. The senior cornerback has been out with a hamstring injury and will take his first snaps in regular season action.
Keep an eye on the Badger’s secondary this weekend as they face off against a gunslinger quarterback.
Will the Wisconsin Badgers snap their string of losses at Ryan Field?
It’s no secret that Wisconsin has struggled on the road in Evanston. The Badgers are heading to Ryan Field this weekend, where they have lost three of their last four matchups.
Northwestern has had a less than spectacular season. With a 1-4 record and an average of just 20 points per game, the Wildcats have the worst overall record in the Big Ten West. Although Northwestern has had a poor year, this game is no gimme for Wisconsin.
The Wildcats have performed very well against Wisconsin in Evanston. In their last three victories against UW at home, Northwestern has posted an average of nearly 23 points per game while holding the Badgers to just 12 points per game. The Wildcats typically perform well at home, and the Badgers will look to break their string of losses this weekend.
Although the Badgers lead the all-time series 60-38-5, they always seem to have trouble at Ryan Field. If Wisconsin wants to make a good impression in their first game under Leonhard’s direction, they will need to steal a victory in the stadium where they have struggled as of late.
Wisconsin has the edge in talent in this matchup, but it remains to be seen if they can snap their string of losses on the road.