Conditions were far from ideal at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday: rain, wind and a chill in the air.
In other words, perfect Wisconsin Badgers football weather.
It might not have been the most pleasant experience for those witnessing the game in the stands (and judging by the empty seats, many decided not to submit), but the elements played right into Wisconsin’s hands.
For Maryland, the Badgers’ opponent, however, life couldn’t have been more miserable. The weather played a role, but so did Wisconsin’s defense, which chased quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa all game and limited the Terrapins’ rushing attack, which was needed more than usual thanks to the conditions.
Need to run the ball, you say? Well, it’s right down Wisconsin’s alley.
The Badgers raced out – literally – to a 17-0 lead at the half despite completing just 3 of 10 passes for 36 yards. That’s because Wisconsin rushed for 211 yards in the first two quarters. That was nearly as many as Maryland had allowed for any team in a game this season.
Only two teams had topped 200 rushing yards against the Terps – Michigan had 243 and Northwestern 215. Wisconsin finished with a season-high 278, with both Braelon Allen and Isaac Guerendo in the top 100.
Maryland could never get in sync on offense. Tagovailoa entered having completed 72.5% of his passes for 2,001 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Against the Badgers, he was 10-for-23 passing for 77 yards with a TD (a meaningless one late in the fourth quarter) and an INT.
In a game where the running game was going to be important, the Terps had 112 yards on the ground, their second-lowest total of the season. Maryland’s 189 total yards were the fewest since 2019 and the fewest allowed by Wisconsin all season.
The second half was almost an afterthought, with the only question the final score (23-10 Badgers, by the way).
It was not a pretty affair all around, from the weather to the play on the pitch.
Just the way Wisconsin likes it.
Here is a summary of Saturday’s game:
After missing Wisconsin’s previous game with a knee injury, Nick Herbig was back and making an impact. He had just four tackles, but three were for loss – the second career TFL in a game (also in 2020) and the first Badgers quarterback to do so in 2022. Two of those came on sacks. Herbig also had a pass broken up and was credited with a quarterback hurry. He wasn’t given a QBH on Tagovailoa’s pick, but he might have been when he approached from the side and was a step away from a sack after the QB stepped up to avoid John Torchio. It was good to have him back.
Braelon Allen gets the message, but Wisconsin may have a new No. 2 back. With Chez Mellusi still out, Isaac Guerendo gets his opportunity – and makes the most of it. Guerendo finished with career highs 12 carries and 114 yards. He had the big play of the game, an 89-yard touchdown run down the right sideline — amazingly maintaining his poise as Chimere Dike helped block a defender — the fifth-longest run in Wisconsin history. Let’s not forget that Guerendo also proves to be a dangerous kick back. He had a punt return of 32 yards against Maryland and is now averaging 25.2 yards on the season. Guerendo is an exciting player that we should expect to see more of in these final games.
As we mentioned, it was not an optimal day to pass the football. Graham Mertz completed just five passes – but each resulted in a first down. The biggest may have been his first. After a sluggish first five possessions of the game, on Wisconsin’s third drive, the Badgers faced a third-and-3, with Mertz connecting with Chimere Dike for eight yards. It was the only completion of a 12-play, 77-yard drive that resulted in the game’s first score, an Allen touchdown, but it was a much-needed one.
Yes, Wisconsin is a running team. But since 2000, there have only been three instances where the Badgers had at least 18 pass attempts, as they did against Maryland, with fewer than 80 yards. They had lost all three – none at home (2018 at Penn State, 2014 vs. LSU at Houston and 2002 at Michigan). On the flip side, this marked the 12th time since 2000 that a Wisconsin opponent had 20+ pass attempts but finished with under 80 yards passing. It was the first time that happened at home against a Big Ten opponent since 2017 vs. Iowa.
“Number one, it contains the quarterback. You saw late on the last drive how dynamic he can be when he gets out of the pocket. I thought we did a really good job early in the game of getting him on the ground, forcing him into the boundary , and make him throw the ball away because what happened late in the game is usually what he does for four quarters. So we did a good job of holding him back and forcing him to make some throws and make some tough decisions. You had to stop the run first today. You have to control the line of scrimmage and affect the quarterback in the pocket, and we were able to do that after doing that.” – Interim head coach Jim Leonhard on how the weather affected the game
“If you were to try to throw it a lot over 10 yards, the ball would be affected in a pretty big way. We saw that in the couple that we threw vertically. They didn’t throw a lot downfield, so that kind of shows you the respect they had for the conditions.” — Leonard
“It’s free money. My dad always told me in golf, if somebody gives you strokes, you take them. They gave me some strokes and I took them.” — linebacker Nick Herbig after being blocked on his two sacks
“We knew it was going to be a running day. I give credit to the O-line for blocking their back today all day, opening up holes for me and Braelon.” — running back Isaac Guerendo
“Mr. Tightrope himself. That was definitely fun.” — quarterback Graham Mertz on Guerendo’s long touchdown run
Speaking of Iowa … Wisconsin hits the road to play the Hawkeyes next Saturday. Iowa is coming off a 24-3 win at Purdue and, like the Badgers, is 5-4 on the season and 3-3 in conference play. The Hawkeyes have won back-to-back games after dropping three in a row, all to ranked teams. Expect a run-heavy defensive battle. Wisconsin has won five of its last six games, although the one loss was in Iowa City in 2020.