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Instant analysis: How the Badgers showed versatility in the running game and the defense’s near-perfect performance
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Instant analysis: How the Badgers showed versatility in the running game and the defense’s near-perfect performance

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The University of Wisconsin football team bounced back from a loss in its opener with a 34-7 win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium. Here are columnist Jim Polzin's thoughts on the game:

Three-headed monster

UW has three solid tailbacks and each of them offer something different.

Isaac Guerendo, whose 83-yard touchdown run in the second quarter electrified the crowd, is a speedster. Jalen Berger, who finally made his season debut after spending the opener on the sidelines, is more of a power runner. And starter Chez Mellusi offers a little of both.

University of Wisconsin quarterback talks about the amount of talent the Badgers have in their running back room after they defeated the Eastern Michigan Eagles 34-7 on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Combined, they finished with 298 yards on 29 carries. Each of them scored a touchdown.

By the way, I’ve seen a lot of cool moments in this place and Guerendo’s run and what preceded it ranks up there. The song “Fireflies” by Owl City had been played in the stadium and the student section kept right on singing after the music stopped, waving their lit-up phones while doing so. It would have gone on longer had Guerendo not busted loose down the sidelines for his score.

Badgers fans get in on the action as the University of Wisconsin football team builds on its first-half lead over the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Shutdown mode

UW’s defense was missing two starters in the secondary, cornerback Faion Hicks and safety Collin Wilder, but that unit still delivered a near-perfect performance.

Yes, this was a weak opponent. Nothing about Eastern Michigan’s offense was scary.

But the UW defense allowed only 92 yards — including 16 on the ground — and kept the Eagles out of the end zone. They even collected their first turnover of the season, with cornerback Donte Burton intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter.

University of Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson talks about how the Badgers can build off their victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Backup for a reason

I heard plenty of griping from fans this week that Chase Wolf should take over for Graham Mertz as the starter.

Wonder if those same people will weigh in this week after Wolf had a pass intended for Jack Dunn intercepted and returned 98 yards by Eastern Michigan’s David Carter. Wolf has thrown a pick in each of his last three appearances.

I’ll say it again: Mertz has a lot of work to do to improve and be the type of quarterback this team needs to win big games. But there’s a reason he’s the starter and Wolf is the backup: Mertz gives UW a much better chance to win.

University of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz talks after a victory against Eastern Michigan.

Mertz was solid for the most part Saturday and finished 14 of 17 for 141 yards. He had what would have been his first touchdown pass of the season, a nicely designed play to tight end Clay Cundiff, get wiped out by a holding call on Danny Davis.

Some gripes: Mellusi tripped over Mertz’s feet on the opening series, resulting in a one-yard loss on the play after Mellusi had gained 60 yards. It killed the momentum on a drive that ended with UW failing on a fourth-and-goal from the 2.

There were also two times Mertz threw short of the first-down marker on third-down plays, including one in the third quarter that probably would have resulted in an interception if the opponent had been, say, Michigan instead of Eastern Michigan.

All in all, however, a step in the right direction for Mertz.


Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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