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B1G 2021, Wisconsin Potluck #2: Can the offense get back on track?

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Also: great places to have a beer and great places you haven’t been.

Oh the places you’ll go!

...you WILL go, right?

The photo above is of the Terrace at Wisconsin’s Memorial Union, which looks out on lovely Lake Mendota. It is one of the very best places in the world to sit and drink a beer. If you ever get a chance, you must check it out. I am far from the only Badger fan who speaks of the Terrace reverentially. It is one of the most popular places in Madison for photos—you WILL see a wedding party there if it’s a weekend—and at nights when there is live music, good luck finding a seat.

That said, I have encountered a few (very few) people who said something to the effect of “yeah, I just never got out to the Terrace.” While I can feign offense, I realize every college town—and every B1G state—has plenty of great places, and you can’t get to them all.

So, fair contributors:

(1) Somebody is visiting your school/city/state and has a little time to kill. Where MUST they go to get a sense of why you feel the way you do about your school/city/state? [You don’t have to be able to get a beer there.]

(2) Tell me about an awesome place in your school/city/state that you have to admit you still haven’t visited yourself? Why not? Will you remedy it soon?

(3) [Through gritted teeth is fine...] Tell me about a wonderful experience you had visiting a different B1G school/city/state. Bonus points if it is a rival.

Beez: (1) In Madison, it’s 100% the terrace. In Wisconsin, I’d say a good Friday night fish fry.
(2) I’ve never been to Door County in Wisconsin and I really don’t know why. Growing up I didn’t make it to the eastern part of the state other than to Milwaukee. I get the sense that the cross-state roads from Eau Claire to the Green Bay area are bad, slow, crowded, or non-existent, because we just never even remotely considered going as a family. No chance I remedy it, as I don’t live in Wisconsin anymore and there’s so much else in the world to see.
(3) You really can’t go wrong visiting Minnehaha, just because of the city/ies it’s in! There’s delicious burgers, cake, and beer to be had close by, and Minneapolis/St. Paul is a pretty enjoyable place all around.

WSR: (1) All it takes is a 15 minute drive (or half-hour light rail trip) to get from TCF Bank Stadium (No, I will not accept the name change) to Minnehaha Falls. Tucked away nicely in the desolate hellscape that I’ve been told Minneapolis has become is a perfectly serene park. There’s not a bad time to go check it out.

The stark contrast between serene nature and urban life is pretty representative of the state as a whole. And then you can stop at the Longfellow Blue Door for a Juicy Lucy and a craft beer when you’re done.

(2) The one thing that makes me feel like a terrible Minnesotan, outside of the fact that I don’t have a hotdish recipe, is that I have never been to Split Rock Lighthouse. My only excuse is that it’s only an hour north of Duluth and I’m from the NW exurbs of the cities and that feels like a long way away. But it feels like far too many people talk about how wonderful of a trip it is and I’ll probably rectify that some time this fall when the Vikings are playing.

(3) I had a great time in Chicago in 2019 following the win over Northwestern. The weather was crisp, Millennium Park was lit up with Christmas trees and the bean being illuminated and people skating, I had a great meal and dessert at Latinicity, and the airport getting the hell out of Chicago and going back to Minnesota was easy to navigate.

MNW: The only real answer possible for Northwestern is the Lakefill. While now there’s also the Fitz Mahal on the north end of NU’s campus, walk north-to-south and let the Chicago skyline just kind of loom before you.

Then have a nip of Malort, just to keep you warm.

Four years ago I got to check the Northwest Angle off my bucket list, even if just for a few hours because conditions weren’t great for camping (and I really wanted to get home after a week in North Dakota and Canada). As we discussed a couple weeks ago, I’ve never canoed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I’d like to say that’s going to change sometime soon, but I barely have time to get to St. Paul—the superior Twin City—these days, let alone get 4 hours outta town.

I’ll never admit it in writing, but Madison is an amazing city 358 days out of the year. My wife did her Master’s at UW, so summer nights on the terrace were aces. Get a pitcher of some local beer—no, not Spotted Cow—bring a cribbage board, and enjoy the music. Had the opportunity to grab a beer there with Brian Gillis, as well, before a Wisconsin-Michigan game a couple years back, so I hope he weighs in.

RU in VA: The shore. It really does matter ‘where’, since there are some touristy, some upscale, and some pretty barren. I’m working from personal experience here, but Ocean City, NJ is where I go every year. It’s a dry town - which cuts down on the Jersey Shore shenanigans, but has a substantial boardwalk, tons of events for a family, and a fully guarded beach with real waves and an actual opportunity to surf. Fishing off the inlet or the bayside is fantastic, and it’s not uncommon to hear of a few Cobia being taken a few miles off the beach.

2. I’ve never been to literally anywhere in North Jersey that isn’t on the way to NYC. I really don’t think I’m missing much. I get a good idea from living right outside of DC. Money, suburbs, fake power and wealth. Got it.

3. I really like Evanston. Sketchbook is the best brewery that I’ve ever been to. I usually just palm a brewery glass for my collection, but I actually bought one there. And a shirt! Making waves.

College Park is okay. Very similar to the Gers in a commercial strip-mall highly populated area.

Lansing sucks. Yuck.

BrianB2:

  1. College Park is okay. I wouldn’t use it in any sort of tool to attract tourists to the state of Maryland though. D.C. is basically Maryland and I am sure people that have not been there 100 times would find it to be very interesting and cool. Lot’s of people like Ocean City, MD, but I prefer the less noisy beaches north of there, many of which reside in Delaware, but you know, Delaware is basically Maryland. But if you are ever in Maryland for a game, I really recommend spending a day in Frederick, great small town, lets to do.
  2. I can’t really think of anything. There are definitely a handful of Maryland farm breweries that I have yet to make it to.
  3. Despite the team that calls it home, I do really enjoy my visits to State College. Other than that, I’ve only ever driven through New Brunswick, NJ and try to avoid the Midwest at all costs.

BRT: I’ve been to Madison twice, and the first time was in early April and the terrace-sitting wasn’t optimal. But the second time I went was in the summer, and I was lucky enough to be there on a perfect Midwestern summer evening, and the Terrace was magical. I hate saying nice things about Wisconsin, but the Terrace and surrounding environs is top-notch. I’ve not actually gone to a rival’s game, though I did attend Wisconsin’s underwhelming spring game during the aforementioned April trip. Most of my road game experience was at MSU, where I had basically positive experiences (once because Nebraska won, lol) thanks to being hosted by a scad of green-clad fans.

As for Nebraska, I wrote an entire article answering these questions and providing you directions for a fun gameday in Lincoln a few weeks ago, so I’m going to be a lazy POS and just link back to that. :)

Thumpasaurus: The place I personally always want to go back to is the quad. U of I is a remarkably compact campus that is 100% walkable, located directly between two miniature cities that are surrounded on all sides by cornfields. Look, y’all are just cherry picking the most beautiful places. The Arboretum is obviously that for U of I, but that wasn’t the question. U of I has this fairly dense campus where a lot of the academic buildings (or at least a lot of the engineering ones) are in a series of quads from the Beckman Institute up north to the Engineering Quad to the main quad to the south quad. A couple blocks south of here are the baseball field and the tennis center, and then civilization ends. That’s right, you go three blocks south from an iconic destination for college basketball in the State Farm Center and then you run into Windsor Rd and then it’s just farmland south of there.

It’s maybe not the most aesthetic place for a university to be, but the university founded for honest learning and labor could only have taken root in the heart of corn country. A world-class research institution and a perennial top-10 party school exists and thrives in the most boring setting to drive through. Sure, other schools also do this, but we’ve done it better for longer and have the cornfield right in the middle of campus to prove it.

Anywhere I didn’t go is a place that’s popped up since I left. I unironically miss Chambana.

ANYWAY. The traffic is terrible, but Ann Arbor has a very nice albeit typically bougie downtown.

Brian: One of my favorite things about Michigan is how the campus and city of Ann Arbor intertwine. My suggested walking tour would include taking in sites like Angell Hall, the Michigan Union and the Law Quad along with wandering through the Engineering Arch into central campus’s Diag at the steps of the Graduate Library. But I’d also recommend walking the streets of South University and State Street. And for out of towners, the downtown area on Main Street is a really nice little area – that while within walking distance from campus, is far enough removed to not feel like you’re on campus.

While it’s not true to say I’ve never been there, but I’ve only made my to Michigan’s arboretum once or twice in my life. Like arbs on most campuses, it’s a beautiful walk. Perhaps I’ll have to remedy this someday.

I bumped into this guy a lot during my time in Madison.
Brian Gillis

I’ve made it a point to work some road games into my schedule as of late – and have seen Michigan play in East Lansing, Evanston and Madison in recent years. I really enjoyed my time in Madison. Maybe not my time in Camp Randall Stadium that much, as on a sweltering September day in 2019 the Badgers ran all over (quite literally) the Wolverines, jumping out to a 35-0 lead before coasting home with a three-touchdown victory. It didn’t put a damper on the weekend, however. I wandered the campus Friday – and really enjoyed it. The Camp Randall Memorial Arch, Bascom Hall and the Agriculture Building stand out in my memory (forgive me if I’m referring to them incorrectly), as did the view of the Capital Building and the aforementioned Union Terrace – where I shared a beer and a lake view with one of OTE’s finest (MNW).

Will the Badger offense get back on track? If so, will it be the traditional way or...?

We touched on the struggles of the Badger offense yesterday, but it is worth drilling down a little more. Here is Wisconsin’s scoring output by game: 45, 49, 7, 6, 7, 20, 42. And note that the 20 points against Minnesota’s horrid defense required OT (17-17 after regulation). Do you know how hard it is to play seven straight games and never score between 21 and 41 points while having multiple games on either side of that?

2020.

Michigan sucked on defense but those 49 points came AFTER the two Covid-related cancellations (and, honestly, could’ve been 70).

Mike Hankwitz is an evil genius and UW always struggles at Ryan Field, and Indiana and Iowa were both very good last year, but 20 points, total?!?!?

What to make of all this?

Option 1: UW will get back to its old ways

There is a ton of talent on the OL, some of it quite young, but still. Graham Mertz is the best QB recruit in UW history and, even if it was just Illinois, you don’t throw for 5 TDs by accident. Chryst is back calling plays. The weird issue with the play signs should be fixed. Jalen Berger is a 4-star RB (with talent behind him) and the WRs are back and healthy.

Nobody thinks of UW as an offensive juggernaut, but a top 30 finish in scoring offense, and 30+ ppg should be entirely doable. Given the ball control approach and quality of defense, that should mean a lot of wins.

Option 2: UW will discover “a new way”

Neither Berger nor Clemson-transfer Chez Mellusi is much of a thumper. Maybe they split 35 carries a game between them. Maybe Julius Davis or incoming freshman Braelon Allen garner enough trust to lay the lumber.

But maybe, just maybe, Chryst sees Jake Ferguson and a deep WR corps and remembers that he once coached Russell Wilson. I’m not saying UW will go Air Raid, but—perish the thought—might we see more 3 WR sets and less use of the fullback this year in Madison? Wisconsin has Mertz—and landed a four-star pro style QB in this year’s recruiting class.

Don’t expect a revolution in Madison, but the offense could look a bit more modern.

Option 3: UW will continue to struggle

Maybe Graham Mertz is more Hunter Johnson than Russell Wilson. Maybe the oft-injured RBs continue to be injured and Berger wears down. Maybe the most talented members of the OL (multiple 5-stars the last couple of years in Logan Brown, Jack Nelson, and Nolan Rucci) are still a year away. Maybe UW just has completely forsaken the downfield pass. There are a number of scarily plausible reasons why the 2020 struggles could continue.

Which of the above options seems most likely to you?

(1) Same ol’ Badgers. Pounding away, wearing you down.

(2) Can’t let Graham Mertz go to waste

(3) 2020 wasn’t a fluke

Beez: In order, it goes 1, 3, 2 in my opinion.

I am very worried about the offense in 2021, as I don’t see it as much different than 2020. Sure Wisconsin had a boatload of injuries, but it was equally the game plans as the personnel in 2020 that were a disaster.

Now that Chryst is (I think?) calling plays again, maybe option 2 moves into a tie with option 3, but when it comes to Wisconsin football, I’m not counting on a QB to do much until proven wrong-ish. And even then, I’m probably not going to admit that I was wrong.

WSR: 3, 1, 2. And if you want me to be honest (which I most certainly will not be), you might be able to flip the first two around.

But if Chryst tries to start forming independent thoughts now that Barry Alvarez isn’t running the football program and lets Graham Mertz try to throw a football, I’m all for it. The recruiting has been on an uptick for years, but so have other teams around the conference. The playcalling and scheme are what they have always been, and the “talent” on offense is the same as it ever was (OL and RB) with Mertz being the outlier in terms of evaluation coming out of HS.

If the badgers want to chug along and do keep choosing good old rock, they’ll continue to be themselves because the defense will overcome the waning results of the offense. If they want to fly too close to the sun and try to become the new Nebraska by thinking they should pass the ball more because they have something that can be called a QB (in spite of all evidence to the contrary in college football), I’m fully supportive of that choice.

MNW: Honestly, that Nebraska angle is a really intriguing one I hadn’t considered. I’ll say 1, 3, 2, mostly because there are too many Big Ten teams that still haven’t gotten wise to how to stop wisconsin. Ain’t no sense rewriting the book when it still flattens Nebraska, Purdue, and usually Illinois—unabashed RUTM gets wisconsin three pretty easy ones in the West, so why stop now? I will tout the genius that is Mike Hankwitz at the drop of a hat, but the success of Iowa and Indiana as well tells you that a disciplined defense can stop this badger offense—and especially this badger offense.

That’s a question I’ll be curious to see if Paul Chryst feels pressure to solve—does he flip the 3 and 2 in that equation (1, 2, 3) and open up the badger offense if he struggles—again—against Iowa and Northwestern? Is it just a matter of respecting opponents and gameplanning a little better?

I’ll be honest: I didn’t see anything from their Columbus Crew knockoff logo quarterback in 2020 that makes me believe he can take over and win a game in 2021. But I’ve been wrong before, and maybe it’s easier to chalk that up to COVID and 2020.

RU in VA: I mean, it’s Wisconsin. I feel like every year we all talk about this with both Wisco and Iowa.

IS THIS THE YEAR THEY THROW 55% OF THE TIME?!?

No, man. Wisconsin’s gonna take some 17 year old kid running back, have him run for 2000 yards (a few games over 200), and lose in the Rose Bowl. It’s like tater tot casserole - it’s just how they do.

And then that kid will never win the Heisman, slowly depreciate at WI until the draft, and go in the Second Round to the Patriots and put up five straight 20 TD seasons.

I feel like anything else is crazy pills at this point.

HWAHSQB: Wait, did Graham Mertz not complete 95% of his passes and throw 5 TDs in all his games last year? Huh.

BRT: I’ll also throw my hat in for 1,3,2. The secret to Wisconsin’s success in the past decade is that they seem to have a firm handle on who they are and what they’re good at, without getting too cute about it. I’d have to see a few more off years before I thought a shake-up was likely. Besides, Chryst does not strike me as an innovator or risk-taker. That’s not always bad, as long as what you’re doing is working, but I don’t really picture him fundamentally changing The Plan.

Thumpasaurus: If anyone still honestly thinks Graham Mertz is a top-flight B1G quarterback right now because of his first two games, take a look at what Spencer Petras did to Illinois. That’s not to say there’s no upside, but Wisconsin doesn’t have the weapons on the outside to support a more balanced attack than their usual fare. Mertz could be the best Wisconsin QB since Russell Wilson without being particularly good. As it stands, for him to lead the passing game to the forefront, he’d need to be absurdly accurate AND an explosive rushing threat. 2011 Aaron Rodgers he is not.

I see no reason they shouldn’t go back to pounding the ball and hoping they don’t need to throw too often. They’ll have success with that approach until they run into a defense that can both stop them up front and turn their passing game into a liability.

In other words, they won’t beat Ohio State.

Brian: Graham Mertz will play a larger and larger part in the offense as time goes on. He’s too talented not to. But Wisconsin is still Wisconsin and it will keep doing what it does (very well).

Poll

How will the Badger offense get back on track?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    (1) By getting back to its old ways
    (54 votes)
  • 15%
    (2) By taking to the air and discovering a new way
    (15 votes)
  • 31%
    (3) By continuing to struggle
    (31 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now