Four takeaways from Wisconsin’s 38-17 loss to Michigan

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The Wisconsin Badgers have dropped to 1-3 on the season with today’s 38-17 loss to the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines.

There was a glimmer of hope before the half as Graham Mertz led the offense down the field in only seconds and found Chimere Dike for a long-range touchdown. But the team collapsed after Mertz’s third-quarter injury, turned the ball over several times and allowed Michigan to capture a win at Camp Randall for the first time in 20 years.

Related: Twitter reacts to Wisconsin football’s loss to Michigan

On Barry Alvarez day on the newly-named Barry Alvarez Field, Wisconsin has started the season 1-3 for the first time since Alvarez’s first year as head coach.

Here are four takeaways from yet another Wisconsin loss:

The offensive line continues to struggle

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) rushes the quarterback as Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Logan Bruss (60) blocks during the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin ran for just 77 yards on 32 carries today. Part of that low output was due to a strong performance by Michigan’s defensive line.

Much of it, however, was also due to another tough game for the Wisconsin offensive line.

I’ll get into Graham Mertz’s signs of life towards the end of the first half. But he was pressured throughout the contest yet again as Michigan’s defense was able to disrupt the Wisconsin offense and force mistakes.

Wisconsin’s struggles up front have become a big part of the story behind the team’s 1-3 start to the season. The unit continues to lack continuity, they struggle to protect the quarterback and the run game has been inconsistent.

Wisconsin’s offense is unlikely to find a groove until the group of front returns to the dominant form we’ve grown to know.

Special teams continue to hurt this team in big spots

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Another big game saw yet another batch of back-breaking special teams mistakes as Wisconsin handed a possession away with a muffed punt and kicked the ball out of bounds on a kickoff.

Think back to the 2019 Big Ten Championship. That game saw the punter drop a snap and give the ball away, the 2019 Rose Bowl saw the same mistake occur, Week 1 this season saw a blocked field goal and last weekend saw a kickoff returned for a touchdown.

It’s a troubling pattern, especially for a team that has struggled on offense through the first four weeks.

If college football teams can’t get the simple things right, they’re unlikely to win big games. That’s the case with this team right now.

Credit Michigan: They capitalized on every Wisconsin mistake

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) celebrates with running back Hassan Haskins (25) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I know many takeaways from this game will focus on Wisconsin’s 1-3 start and consistent struggles on offense.

But Michigan deserves credit. The Wolverines turned Wisconsin over in key spots, capitalized with big plays and played a sound football game in all three phases.

Previous weeks have seen the Badgers battle with teams despite turnovers, special teams errors and a stagnant offense.

But today Michigan was able to take advantage of those errors and shut the door as the second half rolled on.

Michigan was the team with the clear identity today. Wisconsin was not.

Graham Mertz looked really good before his injury

Oct 2, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) walks from the field after being injured during the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be positive for a second. Graham Mertz played some of his best football since the 2020 opener against Illinois.

The rest of the offense didn’t do much to help him. But the end-of-half drive that finished with at Chimere Dike receiving touchdown saw Mertz make some of the best plays of his career.

The Badger signal-caller finished the game with 8 completions on 15 attempts, 115 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 turnovers. As mentioned earlier, he did it with pressure in his face for most of the day.

I know the loss continued to show Wisconsin’s shortcomings at several position units. But if there’s one takeaway (aside from more dominance from some of the Badgers’ defensive linemen): Mertz looked good.

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