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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Badgers win ground game, topple Terps for fifth victory

Despite dire Camp Randall conditions, the Badgers confidently defeated the Terps 23-10 with a relentless running game and suffocating defense.

With fierce winds and sheets of rain blowing south to north, Camp Randall Stadium was justifiably uncrowded Saturday. The lower bowl was splattered with empty seats from the 11:00 a.m. kickoff through the final whistle, and the student section peaked at around half capacity. 

Those who did show up in their ponchos and soggy shoes saw the Wisconsin Badgers (5-4, 3-3) beat the Maryland Terrapins (6-3, 3-3) by a 23-10 margin. 

With neither team’s passing game even remotely effective, Saturday’s matchup became a battle on the ground. Wisconsin, with a career-best outing from running back Isaac Guerendo and a dominant defensive front, thoroughly outplayed the Terps and won a second consecutive game for the first time all season.

Neither team got a first down until nine minutes into the game, when Graham Mertz started Wisconsin’s third possession with a completion over the middle to Chimere Dike. Dike then nullified a 46-yard Braelon Allen run with an illegal block in the back, but Skyler Bell made up for it with a 36-yard jet sweep. 

On his fourth consecutive rush, Allen scored a nine-yard touchdown and got Wisconsin on the board. 

Two possessions later, Isaac Guerendo broke off a dazzling, 89-yard touchdown. After breaking to the outside with his trademark speed, the running back tiptoed the right sideline for about 45 yards and found the end zone. The play was reviewed, but Guerendo appeared to just barely avoid the sideline. Dike deserves credit, too, for some great downfield blocking. 

The Badgers added a 38-yard Nate Van Zelst field goal before halftime, taking a 17-0 lead into the locker room. Mertz had three completions on 10 attempts for 36 yards in the first half, while Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa completed three of six for 22 yards. 

Maryland put together a long drive early in the third quarter, only to settle for a field goal and make it 17-3. 

The rest of the second half consisted of unproductive drives, turnovers on downs and a pair of Van Zelst field goals. Maryland scored its only touchdown in the final minute.

Hunter Wohler snagged his first career interception early in the fourth quarter. The free safety’s instincts were on full display as he reached left to haul in a bullet from Tagovailoa. Distributing snaps among John Torchio, Kamo’i Latu and Wohler, who just returned from a Week 1 injury, is a good problem to have for Jim Leonhard and the defensive coaching staff. 

Wohler’s versatility should keep him on the field more often than not, regardless of who’s starting at safety. He lined up on the line of scrimmage for his interception and appears well-suited for a linebacker-type role in likely passing situations. 

It was a horrible day for the Terp offense, which hardly even flashed competence in an 189-yard performance. Maryland managed only nine first downs all game, four of which came on the final garbage-time drive. 

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The Terps ran the ball with little success — a death sentence when their quarterback threw for 77 yards. Running back Roman Hemby totaled 66 yards on 16 carries but had no help behind him. As a team, the Terps averaged a dreadful 2.7 yards per carry. 

Center Johari Branch exacerbated the Terps’ offensive futility. Even when the wind had settled and the rain had slowed, he consistently struggled to get Tagovailoa the ball. Whether diving on a wide snap or jumping for a high one, the Maryland quarterback didn’t have much of a chance to execute the game plan.

Wisconsin’s pass rush had its best game of 2022. With five sacks, the defensive front never let Tagovailoa find comfort in the pocket. Nick Herbig tallied his seventh and eighth sacks of the season and another quarterback hit. Keeanu Benton, C.J. Goetz and Maema Njongmeta each got to Tagovailoa as well. 

While skewed by Guerendo’s 89-yard run, Wisconsin’s rushing attack was remarkably productive with six yards per carry and 278 total ground yards. Fullback Jackson Acker blocked well all afternoon and, comically, was the Badgers’ second leading receiver with one catch for 24 yards. 

Mertz’s final numbers weren’t pretty. Completing five of 18 attempts for 77 yards, he struggled with accuracy all day and was clearly uncomfortable with the wet, windy conditions. Being sacked three times didn’t help, either. That said, Mertz didn’t turn the ball over to a Maryland defense, which had been racking up interceptions in recent weeks.

Receiver Skyler Bell almost made a ridiculous diving catch on the left side of the end zone. As Bell tweeted, he may have gotten his toes down before falling out of bounds, but a review confirmed the incomplete pass. 

Though catchless, Bell had three carries for 52 yards on jet sweeps. The redshirt freshman isn’t exceptionally fast but runs with good vision and can be a nice complement to Allen and Guerendo’s between-the-tackles attack. 

The Badgers leaned on their kicker for the first time all season. Nate Van Zelst made field goals from 38, 35 and 28 yards and missed from 33. A capable kicker lessens the need for aggressive play calling or risky throws in the red zone. Van Zelst impressed in nasty conditions and should keep his job even if Vito Calvaruso (right leg) returns from injury. 

With the win, Jim Leonhard improves to 3-1 as head coach. If Athletic Director Chris McIntosh isn’t yet convinced that Leonhard should lose the interim tag, it’s fair to question what more the former defensive coordinator must do. He’s gotten a disastrous season back on the rails and has positioned Wisconsin to finish near the top of the Big Ten West. 

If Leonhard is to be the head coach next season, the program would be wise to announce that as soon as possible before the current uncertainty steers any more recruits — or current Badgers — elsewhere. 

Next, the Badgers travel to Iowa for a matchup with the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3). A win would vault Wisconsin to second in the division. 

The Daily Cardinal will have coverage of that game and other Wisconsin sports throughout the week, so stay tuned to our website and @cardinal_sports on Twitter. 

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