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

Wisconsin Football: Studs and Duds vs. Michigan State

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.

Stud(s):

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.

Duds:

Graham Mertz

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.

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