After a little thought, I decided to switch things up this week. I spent 10 days not looking forward to writing this article because I didn’t want to beat a dead horse. And if I don’t want to write it, you probably don’t want to read it.
Instead of going through the three phases of each team, let’s skip the Army portion. You have watched enough of the team by this point that you know their strengths and weaknesses. Let’s therefore dive straight into previewing the Badgers.
Afterwards, we’ll talk about what has to happen for Army to win in Madison. We all know the Black Knight’s are relatively big underdogs on Saturday night. But they always play tough in these situations. How do they finally make that pay in a big spot?
?Teams On Serious Upset Alert This Weekend? pic.twitter.com/74nNA3Xc1g— Big Game Boomer (@BigGameBoomer) October 12, 2021
The Badger offense is their weakest phase of ball. They are tied for second to last in the country with 13 turnovers lost. Thus, despite averaging over 380 yards/game, the Badgers cash in for fewer than 20 points. Chalk that up to a poor 3rd down conversion percentage (30%), turnovers, and abysmal red zone performance.
QB Graham Mertz was supposed to be the savior of Wisconsin football. In his second year, however, he completes just 55% of his passes, has found the end zone only twice, has thrown 7 interceptions, and has fumbled twice. When Mertz does try to throw, he’s among the worst in the country with just 6 yards/attempt.
WRs Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis III as well as TE Jake Ferguson each have 16 receptions. It’s notable, though, that Davis hasn’t seen the field since the Notre Dame game on September 25th.
The Badgers’ success, when it comes, has been on the ground. RB Chez Mellusi does most of the damage, averaging 5 yards/carry and 95 yards/game. No doubt he and Army LB Arik Smith will become intimately familiar with each other this weekend. Freshman tailback Braelon Allen also has 180 yards this season.
"There were a lot of questions about me playing running back and I felt like on Saturday, I needed to show what I could do — and what I'm going to do. I kind of felt like I had my arrival, so to speak.— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 12, 2021
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Wisconsin’s rushing defense is the best in the nation by the numbers so far. They’ve allowed just 41 yards/game and 1.7 yards/rush. That is outstanding. However, while these stats may seem ominous to Army fans, there’s some nuance here, too.
The Badgers haven’t played a lot of rushing teams. They only rush-heavy team they’ve faced is Michigan. Michigan QB Cade McNamara attempted a season high 28 passes in that game. Bottom line: Michigan threw at the Badgers to get over the top on their defense. With that, then, these defensive numbers are a little juiced.
Wisconsin’s best defensive performance came against Notre Dame. The Badgers allowed just 9 yards rushing on 32 attempts. But this is the same Notre Dame offensive line that has allowed 6 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. That’s indicative of more than a mere talent differential. There has to be a scheme problem, too.
LBs Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal lead the team with 27 and 25 total tackles, respectively.
Jim Leonhard addresses the media ahead of the Army game:— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 11, 2021
"They're gonna make you earn it … You gotta find ways to create negative plays. You gotta tackle well."
➡️ https://t.co/tp6T9aABMw ⬅️ pic.twitter.com/SYhFGrlp8M
Wisconsin K Collin Larsh is 7/9 on field goals, missing one 50+ yarder and one chip shot.
P Andy Vujnovich is not on the Ray Guy award watch list but deserves to be. He averages 48 yards/punt. He’s also planted 6 kicks inside the 20 yard line and had 8 over 50 yards. Wow!
There is a chance that this game comes down to a battle of punters, and man oh man, what a matchup that will be. Both teams are terrific!
What’s the winning recipe?
Let’s start simple: Army can win this game. There are fewer paths to a Black Knight victory than there are to a Badger victory, but Army can win this game.
The first step is a turnover differential of at least +2 for the Black Knights. Luckily, Wisconsin has averaged -2 so far this season. Army could also block a punt to reach this number. The point is that it’s going to be hard to go 75 yards against Wisconsin running the triple-option. Setting up a short field for Army’s offense could very well be the difference in this one.
Run the ball. Stop the run. #GoArmy | #LastoftheHard pic.twitter.com/3WLLahozzd— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) October 5, 2021
The second step is step is similar: win field position. Wisconsin averages FOUR three-and-outs per game. So if Army picks up 30 yards on a drive and punts, we shouldn’t look at that as a fruitless drive. Look at it as a flipped field in a larger field position battle.
P Zack Harding will likely be busy on Saturday. Let’s set him up for success.
.@RayGuyAward watch lister Zach Harding has been a field position weapon for the Black Knights thru the first 5 weeks. #GoArmy | #LastoftheHard pic.twitter.com/ZT02wcH8JL— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) October 7, 2021
The biggest question mark is Army’s offense. Who will start at quarterback? How did the O-line use their week off to improve? Will Army be able to sustain at least a couple of long drives?
Wisconsin’s defense has done very well against the run. But so far, that’s consisted of teams trying to find the A or B gap. During the Michigan game, though, the Wolverines found success around the perimeter. So while we know that Wisconsin’s linebackers are big and good at tackling, they haven’t necessarily proven themselves to be super-fast just yet. If Army can get good outside blocks, there is a chance that the slotbacks can beat those linebackers to the edge and gain good yardage.
With all of that said, less scoring is probably better for Army. The Badgers have become famous for fourth quarter meltdowns this year. A low scoring, one score game keeps Army in the mix late. All we can really ask at this point is a chance to win when it counts.
Next Mission.#GoArmy | #LastoftheHard pic.twitter.com/6uV25EawUU— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) October 11, 2021
The game kicks at 8 PM on Big Ten Network. Wisconsin opened as 10 point favorites, but the line has since slid to Badgers (-14) as of this writing. The Over/Under is 39.
Let’s hope we end up with even fewer points.
Go Army! Beat Wisconsin (with a stick)!!!
*Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football.
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