There are things to learn even in a game that the University of Wisconsin football team had control of from start to finish.
The Badgers’ 34-7 victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday showed some areas to be happy with and one that may raise concerns as the team enters a bye week before taking on Notre Dame on Sept. 25.
Here are four observations after rewatching the win over EMU, which snaps the Eagles’ streak of three consecutive wins against Big Ten Conference opponents.
1. Graham Mertz was more accurate
One must grade the Badgers’ redshirt sophomore quarterback with a limited sample size in this game. Mertz threw just 17 times, connecting on 14 throws for 141 yards. It was the second-most accurate game of his 11 career starts, completing 82.4% of his throws. His only better game accuracy-wise was his debut against Illinois last season (20 of 21).
If you want to complain that Mertz hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass yet, remember that he did to tight end Clay Cundiff, but a downfield holding call against receiver Danny Davis called it back. Mertz could’ve had another TD that drive had Kendric Pryor not taken his eyes off a well-thrown ball to the back of the end zone and bobbled it as he went out of bounds.
Only one of Mertz’s completions was an inaccurate pass, by a State Journal judgment, and it still resulted in a 17-yard gain to Pryor. Mertz made one questionable choice, throwing a ball up the seam to Jack Dunn, but throwing too far inside and almost having it intercepted.
Perhaps most important for Mertz: It was the fourth career start he did not throw a pick.
Badgers fans wanted a massive leap from Mertz out of the gates. That hasn’t happened. But the small steps he took against EMU are a good start to playing better football.
2. Don’t forget about Benton
Raw numbers won’t illuminate how much of a force Keeanu Benton has been on the Badgers’ defensive line this season. Both of UW’s opponents thus far effectively have given up on between-the-tackles runs, in part because of Benton’s stonewalling of the interior blockers.
His highlight plays against EMU came on back-to-back snaps in the third quarter. Benton quickly tossed aside EMU center Jake Donnellon to bring down tailback Darius Boone for a 2-yard loss on second-and-8 with the Badgers ahead 27-0. Benton took on a double-team and swatted down a pass attempt over the middle on the next snap. It was his second pass breakup this season.
The stat sheet won’t show his influence on Matt Henningsen’s sack in the second quarter. Henningsen made a great move across the face of the right guard, turned his body to get free then drilled quarterback Ben Bryant for a loss of 10 yards. But Benton’s quick move up the field and toward the center before slanting to his right took enough of the center’s attention that he couldn’t help once Henningsen was rushing across the guard.
The move to play Benton more in nickel packages is paying off for UW thus far. The defense didn’t allow a point to EMU.
3. A little more zone?
The Badgers defense forced its first turnover of the season with Donte Burton’s fourth-quarter interception. UW was in zone coverage on the play, protecting a 27-7 lead and really having zero fear of a playmaker from EMU or trouble creating pressure on the quarterback. Still, Burton having his eyes on the quarterback and the ball allowed him to pick off the pass after it tipped off the hands of EMU’s Thomas Odukoya.
Without the benefit of all-22 film to review, it’s difficult to determine the pass coverage UW ran each play, but there were more zone concepts at work throughout the game than were obvious against Penn State. UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said at his availability Sept. 6 that playing more zone so defensive backs could have more opportunities to create turnovers was a possibility going forward.
Although, in all seriousness, the Badgers could’ve played their second-string defense the entire game and EMU wasn’t likely to score.
4. What to do with Seltzner’s spot
The Badgers’ offensive line overall had a good day against the Eagles. They were bigger, stronger and flat-out nasty when needed. UW condensed their game plan and specifically challenged the offensive line to be successful with the Badgers’ base concepts, and it was.
However, senior Josh Seltzner had such a rough start to the game that line coach Joe Rudolph may have to consider other options. Seltzner was stopped flat-footed on a fourth-and-2 run at the goal line and the penetration he allowed stopped tailback Chez Mellusi’s momentum and killed the play. He had three other plays in the first half on which he failed to sustain his block and his man made first contact on the ball carrier.
Junior Cormac Sampson played in multiple series against EMU — specifically the third series of each half, plus some more action in the second half. He was on Seltzner’s heels for the left guard role during training camp while also playing tackle when other players were hurt. Keep an eye on this going forward. UW has to find the right five in the two weeks of build up to the Notre Dame game.
Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2022 football recruiting class
Myles Burkett became the Badgers’ first Class of 2022 recruit when he announced his decision in January.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Franklin is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and Rivals, and showed great mobility and arm strength in his junior season. He battled back from a knee injury as a sophomore to throw for 1,236 and 11 touchdowns and rush for 180 yards and a score in a pandemic-shortened season.
He’s the first in-state quarterback to earn a scholarship out of high school since 2011.
As his recruiting stock started to rise, the Badgers were able to secure a commitment from Fall Rivers’ Barrett Nelson in late June.
The offensive tackle was 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds after his junior season, and his quickness off the ball has made him a load on both the offensive and defensive lines. Nelson is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star on Rivals.
He had offers from Iowa State, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and others before choosing UW.
Nelson’s father, Todd, was a Badgers offensive lineman in the late 1980s, and his brother, Jack, is currently an offensive lineman for UW.
After wowing UW coaches at a pair of camps, Monroe tight end JT Seagreaves accepted a scholarship offer in late June.
Seagreaves is an intriguing prospect for the Badgers — at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has the physical frame to grow into an imposing tight end, and he possesses sprinter speeds. He’s averaged more than 21 yards per catch each of the past two seasons and was starting to gain more Power Five conference interested when he committed to UW.
Seagreaves is a three-star recruit per 247Sports and a two-star according to Rivals.
In multiple trips to UW’s campus in June, Cade Yacamelli was called “a football player” by UW coaches rather than locking him into a position. He earned a scholarship offer after an impressive camp workout and accepted it in late June.
The consensus three-star athlete was starting to earn more recruiting attention from Power Five schools when he accepted the Badgers’ offer. UW was the first Power Five offer for the 6-foot, 200-pounder. He’s played receiver, running back and defensive back in high school, but likely projects as a receiver or defensive back in college.
The Penn Trafford High School product has good quickness and change-of-direction that make him dangerous with the ball in his hands.
When A’Khoury Lyde accepted a UW scholarship offer in late June, he became the first player on the defensive side of the ball to commit in the 2022 class.
Lyde (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), a consensus three-star recruit, has strong ball skills and a willingness to hit that separates him from other cornerbacks.
The Wayne, New Jersey, native is the eighth-ranked player in his state, per Rivals.
The Badgers landed a tall, speedy receiver when Tommy McIntosh committed in late June.
The DeWitt, Michigan, native stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds. He uses his body to shield off defenders at the point of the catch and does well catching the ball away from his body. His Hudl page lists a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time, and he has breakaway speed when he gets in the open field and can use his long strides.
A consensus three-star wide receiver chose the Badgers over offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
UW beefed up its defensive front by landing defensive tackle Curtis Neal.
Neal — a 6-foot-2, 310-pounder — had more than 25 scholarship offers, and reportedly was deciding between UW and Ohio State at the end of his recruiting process. Neal is a product of William Amos Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, where the Badgers found receiver Devin Chandler in last year’s cycle.
Neal, with his size and strength, likely fits best as a nose tackle in the Badgers’ 3-4 scheme.
Jim Leonhard may have found another rangy, smart cornerback to add to his secondary in Avyonne Jones, who committed in to UW in late June.
Jones — who hails from Southlake, Texas — was on campus the weekend of June 18 for an official visit and had narrowed an extensive offer list to UW and California. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back was previously committed to Oklahoma State, but retracted that commitment in late May.
With good recovery speed and a good feel for getting his hands between a receiver’s at the point of the catch, the consensus three-star prospect is a good fit for what UW cornerbacks coach Hank Poteat said he wants from his position group.
The Badgers landed the top-ranked player in Wisconsin for the sixth consecutive recruiting class when Joe Brunner committed the last week of June.
Brunner — a 6-foot-6, 300-pound prospect from Milwaukee who attends Whitefish Bay High School — is a consensus four-star recruit and a top-10 offensive tackle in the nation.
He held at least 16 Power Five scholarship offers, including ones from a majority of the Big Ten Conference, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon and Tennessee.
VINNY ANTHONY IIUpdated
Receiver Vinny Anthony II — a consensus three-star prospect from Louisville, Kentucky — joined UW's class on June 30.
Possessing a good burst of speed and long arms that extend his catch radius, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Anthony has a chance to play across the formation as a receiver.
Anthony chose UW over Cincinnati and Duke.
Austin Brown — who hails from Johnston City, Illinois, a small town outside of Carbondale — was considering offers from Boston College, Illinois, Michigan and Northwestern before choosing UW. The consensus three-star prospect had 21 known scholarship offers.
Brown committed to UW on the Fourth of July.
At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he has a good frame already and his high school film shows a willingness to lay big hits and attack blockers. He also plays quarterback for Johnston City.