Too often in recent years, senior wide receiver Kendric Pryor and the members of the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense have been left feeling like they let down their teammates on the other side of the ball.
The latest example was the Badgers’ season opener, a 16-10 loss to Penn State last week at Camp Randall Stadium. UW’s defense made some costly mistakes that led to big plays for the Nittany Lions in the second half but generally played well enough to deliver a victory.
“They did their part,” Pryor said.
But the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, a recurring theme for a program that has lost six consecutive games to ranked opponents dating to late in the 2019 season. That number won’t grow Saturday, not with Eastern Michigan (1-0) visiting Camp Randall Stadium, but the No. 18 Badgers (0-1) need to use this game and the off week that follows it to figure out some things before a matchup with No. 8 Notre Dame on Sept. 25 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
UW’s point totals in those six defeats are anemic: 21, 27, 7, 6, 7 and 10.
Its total yardage amounts are mostly underwhelming: 432, 322, 366, 342, 225 and 365.
There’s no easy fix, though my inbox and Twitter feed have been flooded with suggestions.
Change quarterbacks? As much as Graham Mertz struggled against Penn State, I don’t believe Chase Wolf gives this team a better chance at winning.
Hire an offensive coordinator with a fresh set of eyes and overhaul the scheme? That might be an option in the offseason if this offense can’t find its way, but it’s not a solution for a problem that exists in a season that just began.
What I’d hoped for in the opener — UW coach Paul Chryst’s first game back calling plays after Joe Rudolph handled that role in 2020 — was a little more imagination on offense. Instead, there were precious few wrinkles.
Mertz attempted only three passes that traveled 20 yards or longer beyond the line of scrimmage. UW had some deep shots built into the game plan, according to Chryst and his players, but they never materialized. Poor pass protection was partly to blame and Penn State also deserves credit for not letting Pryor, Danny Davis and Chimere Dike get open downfield.
Meanwhile, UW rarely tested the perimeter of the Penn State defense. The Badgers had some success on three jet sweeps — two by Pryor and another from Dike — but almost all of the 44 combined carries by tailbacks Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo were between the tackles.
The most damning stat to emerge from the defeat? The Badgers ran 95 plays on offense — an outrageously high number for a program that typically hovers around the 70 mark — and not one of them gained at least 25 yards.
The result was UW being forced to grind away while averaging a meager 3.8 yards per play for the game. It still would have been enough to win had the Badgers actually closed the deal on some massive drives, but they generated zero points from three that lasted a combined 44 plays and took 21 minutes, 16 seconds off the clock.
“Running that amount of plays and the time we had the football and not capitalizing is super frustrating,” fullback John Chenal said. “That’s really our focal point right now, is just finishing those. Fans want to see a score, we want to score and just getting there and not finishing is something that is really hindering us right now.”
Still, Davis said there’s no doubt in his mind that UW has the capability to be a “high-powered offense” and Mertz was just as confident in the aftermath of a performance in which he turned the ball over three times.
Mertz said heading into the season that he thought the offense had the potential to be dynamic. He was asked Monday if he still sees that potential.
“One-hundred percent,” he said. “Nothing’s changed. Not at all.”
And what gives him that confidence? “The guys around me,” Mertz said. “And I know when I’m playing good ball and we’re all playing together, it’s hard to beat us. That gives me the confidence and it will never falter ever at all.”
A clean performance against Eastern Michigan would be a good starting point. The time for the offense to do its part is long overdue.
Badgers fans sound off on Twitter after Wisconsin drops season opener to Penn State
Too little, too late
Badgers needed to score in the first half when the defense had Penn State on the ropes. Once they adjusted in the locker room, every deep route Penn State called was a wide open and Mertz didn’t play well enough for us to keep up. The multiple red zone turnovers were frustrating!— Bode (@NickBode41) September 4, 2021
Show your work
Opening practices to the public (not just media) would provide some level of accountability that handoff exchanges were part of the camp preparation before Saturday. And that was just the tip of the rusty iceberg.— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) September 4, 2021
He has to get a legit offensive coordinator in here and let him do his job— Jason Falkinham (@GoBucky1) September 4, 2021
So ... not all bad?
Outside of Scott Nelson, Graham Mertz and offensive play calling, it was okay.— Mark Tomaszewski (@MarkIsOld) September 4, 2021
There for the taking
Too many Mertz missteps and Penn State may beat OSU this season. But frustrating because that game was there to be won and Badgers could not cash in. Disappointing loss.— Tom Leix (@TomLeix) September 4, 2021
Looking a little lost
As a QB, gotta know the coverages and the reads off of those coverages. Looks like he doesn’t know that. If pressured, need to know outlets for quick throws and/or throwing away in direction of receiver to avoid those intentional grounding throws. Missed open throws too.— DRich (@drich318318) September 4, 2021
Literally one of the worst executed and coached games I've ever seen. Be it losing the ball, decision making, mental breakdowns with opposing teams best player running free in secondary....plenty to go around.— Jeremy Wojtecki (@jwojPAC) September 4, 2021
Graham Mertz looked lost out there and for a highly regarded recruit, it’s disappointing for the fans and program. Something tells me a more experienced Jack Coan would have handled the game better. I guess that’s why he’s Notre Dames starting quarterback.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) September 4, 2021
Ready for a change
Graham Mertz needs to be benched. And why not kick the FG with 2:30 left? Getting the ball back needing 3 is much easier. Hard to watch that those red zone debacles.— Mark Larson (@MLarsonSports) September 4, 2021
An inside job
This fantastic roster is being tanked by Mertz and Nelson— Nathan Lewandowski (@Lewie_15) September 4, 2021
Mertz out of sorts
That stat line, without the red zone, is a winning stat line. Two fumbles and a blocked kick inside the 20 will kill anyone. Graham showed some good, but it almost feels like he’s got the yips— John (@JohnIECedu) September 4, 2021
Off the deep end
Great defense continuing to get torched on deep plays and an offense that shoots itself in the foot.— jko23 (@joeorlofski) September 4, 2021
I don’t think I’ve ever seen us win a game with Gus Johnson on the call in the past 5 years— äđrįąń 💫 (@dazedbadger) September 4, 2021
Ready to launch
Throw the damn ball. When the other team stacks the line it doesn't work to run it play after play. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out!— Gracie Carlson (@GracieCarlson11) September 4, 2021
Seen this all before
It’s like Groundhog Day. I could have written the script for the rest of the game after the false start on first and goal from the 1 and then the blocked field goal attempt. Is anyone surprised by what happened the rest of the game?!— Mark (@badgerfanaz) September 4, 2021
Trust in the rush
I thought PC was over conservative in the play calling, can tell he doesn’t trust the offense yet.— Tim Koplin (@tkoplin30) September 4, 2021
Playing with blinders on
Mertz doesn't seem to see the whole field. He throws too hard, too low, and inaccurately. Makes too many mistakes.— Mary Korn Erickson (@sixtiesfan) September 4, 2021
He and Chryst lost us the game 100%.
Too late to get Coan back??
Not this again
Not sure Mertz can play, and Chryst offense feels like Mike McCarthy’s last year in GB. Unimaginative and stale.— Pat Richards (@pgrichards0407) September 4, 2021
Bad taste lingers
We should have seen this coming when Mertz dropped the Mayo Bowl trophy.— Mark A. Johnson (@markjohnson0208) September 4, 2021
Giving it away
Many squandered opportunities, didn’t deserve to win. Mertz is becoming a big disappointment.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) September 4, 2021
A leg up on the NFL
Beat ourselves and PSU has an NFL punter on their team.— T Shea (@luvipas) September 4, 2021
More of the same
Seems to be a pickup of where they left off last year. Although Mellusi showed some flashes and burst.— OnAByeWeekBTW (@OnAByeWeekBTW) September 4, 2021
Wolf— Carlos P. Sava (@cpsava) September 4, 2021
Total team failure— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) September 4, 2021
Did Chryst take over play calling? I couldn’t tell
Contact Jim Polzin at firstname.lastname@example.org.