- Improve red zone play
Quarterback Graham Mertz was terrible in the red zone against Penn State. Once the Badgers got inside the 10, he struggled with the simplest part of playing quarterback: handing the ball off. In that game, Mertz fumbled the exchange with Chez Melusi from the eight-yard line and would later trip Melusi on another handoff against Eastern Michigan.
The Badgers failed to score three times against Penn State from inside the ten. On their first red zone chance, a false start put the offense back to the six. Then, after Mertz missed a receiver on both second and third down, Penn State blocked the field goal.
With five minutes left in the half, Mertz fumbled the exchange with Chez Melusi, and turned it over to Penn State. Then, down six on Penn State’s one-yard-line with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, the ball slipped out of Mertz’s hands and the Badgers lost six yards. Essentially, Mertz and the offense’s mistakes cost the Badgers nine easy points. Even on their touchdown, tight end Jack Eschenbach seemed to move early — though the officials didn’t see it.
These plays can’t happen against teams like Notre Dame. The Irish are too talented and will punish Mertz and the Badger offense if they make simple mistakes
2. Limit big plays on defense
Like Penn State, Notre Dame has talented skill players with running back Kyren Williams, tight end Michael Mayer and receiver Kevin Austin Jr. All three are capable of bursting past an average Badger secondary.
The Badgers allowed too many big plays to a Penn State offense that was struggling to maintain possession. Penn State receivers got behind safety Scott Nelson twice in the second half, which set up their two touchdown drives. Moreover, Penn State should’ve scored another long pass after UW cornerback Faion Hicks got beat off the line. If Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford had thrown an accurate pass, Penn State would’ve had a 71-yard touchdown.
Against Notre Dame, the Badgers must be disciplined against long passes. These big plays could kill a solid defensive performance. Instead, they need to force Notre Dame to move slowly down the field.
3. Feed the Chez-Berger with a side of Guerendo
Running backs Chez Mellusi, Jalen Berger and Issac Guerendo need to be rotated and used often. If the Badgers want to beat the Irish, all three need to contribute and find holes. UW’s passing game is simply not good enough to win this game on its own. Mellusi has established himself as the clear starting running back, but mixing in Berger and Guerendo would keep Mellusi fresh and give the Notre Dame defense a change of pace.
Against Eastern Michigan, Guerendo showed that he has elite speed and is an excellent complement to Mellusi’s direct running style. Although he surprisingly didn’t play against Penn State, the Badgers should be using Jalen Berger early and often to supplement Mellusi.