By Adam Roberts – 11/23/2020
After his first two starts, many assumed the upward trajectory of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz would continue last Saturday against #19 Northwestern. After all, the Wildcats, though unbeaten, recently have had some close calls; conversely Wisconsin marched with relative ease to wins in their two games. But the offense sputtered against Northwestern, particularly in the third quarter where the Badgers gained just 47 total yards and punted four times before turning it over on downs to end the quarter. Couple that with three Mertz interceptions and a duo of fumbles, and the Badgers’ 17-7 loss shouldn’t come as much of a suprise.
The lack of weapons for Mertz to work with also manifested itself this week. Apart from the Chimere Dike touchdown pass, there was no real big play threat on the field for Wisconsin. Jake Ferguson led receivers with 58 yards on 7 catches, but Dike’s 49 yard scoring play was the only offensive play to go for more than 25 yards, both through the air or on the ground.
Defensively, the Badgers actually held their own. Northwestern scored just once in the second half on a 32 yard Charlie Kuhbander field goal, but a defense can only do so much before the offense has to simply bow up and put points on the board. The ineptitude on that side of the ball ensured Wisconsin would fall for the first time this season.
The loss drops the Badgers to 18th in the AP as they prepare for the Golden Gophers next Saturday. It will be critical for Wisconsin to win out for any shot at the Big Ten Championship game, since they’ll need the Wildcats to lose two of three against 1-3 Michigan State, 2-3 Minnesota, and 2-3 Illinois to jump the Cats in the standings.