UW found its rushing attack last week at Michigan despite being down two key running backs. True freshman tailback Jalen Berger (above) made his first contributions, gaining 87 yards and scoring a touchdown on 15 carries and the Badgers racked up 341 yards on the ground. Five players had at least 30 yards rushing and UW consistently found ways to attack the perimeter of Michigan’s defense. Receiver Danny Davis was crucial to the effort as well, gaining 65 yards on seven jet sweep carries.
That made things easier for redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, who was a little rusty after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. He had two passing touchdowns, including a nice throw to tight end Jake Ferguson in the end zone, but he wasn’t as sharp as he was in the season opener against Illinois. Northwestern has eight interceptions and statistically one of the best pass defenses in the nation, so Mertz will have to be smart with the ball.
With jet sweeps, reverses and pitches, the Badgers have shown a number of ways that they can attack the edges of a defense. Challenging the perimeter may be crucial again this week at Northwestern, which has held UW under 200 yards rushing in their past four meetings and allowed 3.8 yards per carry in those contests. Northwestern is allowing 91.8 yards per game rushing this season and has only given up two rushing touchdowns.
The Badgers’ offensive line adjusted well without starting guard Josh Seltzner, one of the players who contracted the coronavirus. Senior Jon Dietzen slid to left guard to fill his spot, Logan Bruss moved from right tackle to right guard and Tyler Beach started at right tackle. Mertz was only sacked once against Michigan and the Wildcats have just seven sacks this season.
Linebacker Paddy Fisher (33 tackles) draws the attention for Northwestern’s defense, but fellow linebackers Blake Gallagher (34 tackles, 4½ for loss) and Chris Bergin (36 tackles, three pass breakups) have been just as impactful this season.