In advance of Eastern Michigan’s game at Wisconsin, we reached out to our friends at Bucky’s 5th Quarter, the Wisconsin SBNation site. They provided us with their Mr. Manager, Drew Hamm to answer our questions. You can follow him at @drewhamm5 and their site is at @B5Q.
Let’s get to it.
1. Among your readers, what is the perception of Eastern Michigan and their program?
Zack, I’m going to be honest with you... Wisconsin fans most likely don’t have any perception of Eastern Michigan as a football program. Since the two teams haven’t met on the field since 1996, we haven’t really had any need to! However, as a long time proponent of #MACtion and everything that stands for, I’ve seen a few EMU games throughout the years and I’ve always appreciated a green team choosing the “Eagles” as their nickname (I’m from Philadelphia).
2. We know that Leo Chenal is out with COVID, but what other injuries and absences is Wisconsin dealing with? Also, can we expect to see Jalen Berger?
There are three players who are out for the season for Wisconsin, but two of them weren’t going to play this year unless there were multiple injuries, and the other is one of the long snappers that was battling for that job. There were no injuries, outside of pride, to come from the loss to Penn State last week so the Badgers will be operating at nearly full capacity this weekend.
It came as a surprise to Badgers fans when the first depth chart was announced and Jalen Berger was listed as the backup to Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi and it was even MORE of a surprise when Berger did not play a single snap against the Nittany Lions last Saturday. There are some rumbles that Berger was in the dog house and that’s why he didn’t play, but there is nothing official that has been cited as to why he didn’t play. He is on the depth chart again this week, sharing the backup role with Isaac Guerendo, so I would expect to see him get some carries. Mellusi, however, proved to be more than durable enough to handle a large amount of carries (he toted the rock 31 times against PSU) so this may be less of a running back by committee than was originally thought this summer
3. Why won’t Eastern Michigan have a shot against Wisconsin?
Wisconsin doesn’t get to say this against everybody they play, but there will be a decent sized talent gap in terms of recruiting stars as well as future NFL players in favor of the Badgers. The Eagles’ front seven is also undersized when compared to Wisconsin’s offensive line, so there could be some big holes to run through in the second half. While EMU does have a good offense with a number of talented pieces, they haven’t seen anything like Wisconsin’s defense over the past season plus. I can see the Eagles being behind schedule regularly on offense and needing to pick up larger chunks of yards on third down than they would normally like.
4. What has to happen for Eastern Michigan to have a shot?
If Wisconsin hasn’t cleaned up the mistakes on offense from last week, the Eagles will certainly be in this game. The Badgers had two possessions that made it to the one-yard line against Penn State. Guess how many points they scored on those two possessions? If you guessed any higher than zero, you guessed wrong. For the icing on the cake, the Badgers even had a third red zone trip where they left with zero points and, well, I don’t want to talk about it, okay!?
Quarterback Graham Mertz struggled against Penn State with his reads, footwork and overall confidence. He botched handoffs, he nearly threw two more picks (he had two actual picks on the day) and on one play, he even tripped Mellusi for a loss of yards. The left side of the offensive line also had a forgettable performance, so if I were EMU I’d test them early and see if they can apply some pressure there.
In a game like this with a large point spread, the longer the underdog hangs around the more likely an upset occurs. If the Eagles can rattle Mertz early and have him make a mistake or two I can see Mertz starting to press and then make more mistakes. I’m hoping the Badgers have some rhythm throws set up for the first couple of pass plays because Mertz needs some confidence and he needs it, well, last week.
5. What is your prediction?
I’m sure Wisconsin will come into this game pissed off after losing to Penn State to open the season, but they regularly struggle to cover big spreads like this with Paul Chryst as the head coach. I think the Badgers win, but until the offense proves they can score often I have the score being something like 31-10.
Again, special thanks to Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5) and Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) for participating.