Jim Polzin grades the Wisconsin Badgers’ performance in their 34-7 win over Eastern Michigan on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
The Badgers finished with 518 total yards, including 352 on the ground, and those are solid numbers. But that type of production needs to result in more points. UW came up empty twice in the red zone, a big issue in its season-opening loss to Penn State as well. Tailback Chez Mellusi got stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from the 2 on the opening series of the game, and backup quarterback Chase Wolf threw an interception on a weak out pass that got returned 98 yards for a touchdown. The big bright spot was at tailback, where Mellusi, Jalen Berger and Isaac Guerendo took turns slicing through the Eastern Michigan defense. Those three combined for 298 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Quarterback Graham Mertz wasn’t asked to throw downfield but was solid in completing 82% of his passes.
UW will face much more dangerous offenses. But you play who you play, and the Badgers did a good job shutting down anything the Eagles tried to do. UW allowed 16 yards rushing on 18 attempts with a long gain of 9 yards on a scramble by quarterback Ben Bryant. The Badgers were missing two starters in the secondary — cornerback Faion Hicks and safety Scott Nelson — but it didn’t show. Alexander Smith started in place of Hicks and did a good job. Backup cornerback Donte Burton collected the Badgers’ first interception of the season in the fourth quarter.
Special teams: A-minus
Dean Engram had a nifty 20-yard punt return in the first quarter. Collin Larsh made both of his field goal attempts. Jack Van Dyke booted six of his seven kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. Punter Andy Vujnovich took off most of the game as UW’s offense hogged the ball, but his two attempts averaged a robust 55.5 yards and pinned Eastern Michigan inside the 20.
That Eastern Michigan began the game with four consecutive three-and-outs was a sign of how prepared Jim Leonhard had the defense for the Eagles. UW coach Paul Chryst wasn’t about to mess around and called 15 consecutive running plays to start the game. A nicely designed pass play from Mertz to tight end Clay Cundiff would have gone for a touchdown had it not been wiped out by a questionable holding call on wide receiver Danny Davis. There still are execution issues — Mertz and Mellusi stumbling over each other after a handoff on the opening series and a 5-of-12 showing on third down — that need to be cleaned up before UW plays Notre Dame in two weeks.
UW did what it was supposed to do: Win easily against an overmatched opponent. The final margin should have been bigger, but the Badgers dominated every statistical category without getting too cute. They have two weeks to clean up some things before their second big test of the season.