Preview: (18) Wisconsin vs Eastern Michigan


The teams: The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (0-1) vs the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-0)

The time: 6 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: FS1 with Dan Hellie and Robert Smith on the call.

The last time: A true freshman named Ron Dayne made his debut, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown in a 24-3 win for Wisconsin in 1996.

The series: UW lead 3-0

The line: 26.5


1) Bouncing back?

Wisconsin laid an egg in a Week 1 loss to Penn State. The Badgers were the better team, but it was one self-inflicted mistake after another. Whether it was being forced to blow a timeout on the second play of the game on defense because they had too many men on the field or their red zone woes or the multiple turnovers or blown coverages in the secondary, Wisconsin couldn’t get out of its own way.

So how will they respond? If recent history is any indication, you should expect to see a much different team on the field, especially on offense. The last two times they struggled to score in an opener – 2015 against Alabama and 2016 against LSU – they came home and outscored their MAC opponents 112-10.

Now Eastern Michigan, another MAC school, comes to town facing a likely angry and hungry Badgers squad. They couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to build some confidence before playing Notre Dame in two weeks.

2) Graham Mertz, WTF

The worst thing to happen to Graham Mertz was his starting debut against Illinois last season. Already getting out-of-this-world hype as the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in program history, Mertz added to it with a five-touchdown performance in which he had just one incompletion. The effort had everyone feeling as though Mertz was just as good as he was made out to be before he arrived in Madison. Unfortunately for Wisconsin fans, that has not proven to be the case.

Since that night last October, Mertz has thrown for 1,175 yards with four touchdowns, seven interceptions and three lost fumbles, including one inside the 10-yard line against Penn State last Saturday. Most thought, or at least were hoping, that Mertz would have taken a big step from his first year as the starter to his second. That did not appear to be the case against the Nittany Lions.

Obviously, the Eagles aren’t on the level of Penn State, but Mertz has a chance to turn the volume down on his critics a little bit for at least a week if he’s able to go out and put together a clean, mistake-free game and lead the offense to a big day on the scoreboard.

3) Jalen Berger, where are you?

Wisconsin gave its running backs 46 carries last week and none of them went to Jalen Berger. The leading rusher a year ago for the Badgers, Berger didn’t even step on the field against Penn State. He actually spent most of the game standing nowhere near the other running backs when the offense was on the field.

Coach Paul Chryst has said multiple times since then that it wasn’t about what Berger had done, instead it was what they got from Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo. He even went as far as to try to shutdown speculation of an injury or suspension by saying there was no “sideshow” going on that was keeping Berger off the field, and that if the redshirt freshman continues to put in the work, his opportunities will come.

Saturday will go a long way to showing if that is the truth. Chryst said he liked the week of practice Berger had and there could be plenty of opportunities in a game the Badgers should win in a blowout. If he doesn’t see the field again or it’s in a limited capacity, the questions thrown Chryst’s way will only increase.

4) No breakdowns

Against Penn State, the Badgers defense was largely lights out. They held the Nittany Lions to 35 yards in the first half and just 16 points in the game. But it’s the big plays the unit allowed in the second half that proved to be the difference.

The secondary gave up gains of 49 (TD), 52 and 42 yards, and it was infuriating for them because they didn’t get beat physically. Instead, it was either a lack of focus or communication that led to all three. With four seniors lining up with the starting unit, it’s inexcusable to have those kinds of breakdowns multiple times in a close game against a highly ranked opponent.

The group won’t be challenged on the same level by Eastern Michigan, but they must prove they can make the appropriate checks and execute their assignments to avoid the game-changing plays they gave up last week.

5) Dominant line?

Mertz wasn’t good against Penn State, but the offensive line must take some of the blame on that, especially the senior tackles – Tyler Beach and Logan Bruss. Neither played at the level they are capable of, or the level Wisconsin needs them at. Beach was tagged with giving up three quarterback pressures, three quarterback hits and a sack. Bruss was better but still allowed Mertz to be pressured twice and hit once. There was some success in the run game — Mellusi ran for 121 yards — but there were far too many negative, 1- or 2-yard runs than there should be and the offensive line has to take ownership of that.

On Saturday they face an Eastern Michigan defense that allowed 105 yards on the ground to FCS St. Francis (PA) last week but were one of the worst against the rush last season, giving up 238.8 yards per game. They also had just nine sacks on the year, which was also among the worst in the country. If the Badgers line can’t dominate this group, it might be time to worry.


Eastern Michigan will play two quarterbacks against Wisconsin, and one will be a familiar face for some of the older players on the Badgers squad. Ben Bryant was one of the first players to commit to Wisconsin in the class of 2018, doing so in December of 2016. Bryant had seemingly shut his recruitment down, but when he got a scholarship offer from Georgia in May of 2017, he tweeted it out. He would later say he told the Badgers about the offer, but they called the day after he tweeted and told him he was no longer a fit for the program. He would decommit days later and ended up at Cincinnati.

After being a backup the last few years for the Bearcats, Bryant transferred to Eastern Michigan prior to this season. He didn’t start in the opener, but did end up playing a lot, throwing for 126 yards. He’ll share time with returning starter Preston Hutchinson on Saturday against the Badgers.


Wisconsin has started 0-1 seven times since it last opened a season 0-2 in 1988. In those seven games after an opening loss, the Badgers are outscoring their opponent by 24.5 points.

Wisconsin is favored by 25.5 points over the Eagles. The Badgers are 29-1 in their last 30 games when favored by that amount or more, with the only loss coming at Illinois in 2019. Eastern Michigan is 0-30 as that big of an underdog since 2002 but have covered the spread 14 times.

Wisconsin is 11-1 in its last 12 night games at Camp Randall Stadium. The lone loss came to Ohio State in overtime in 2016. The Badgers have not lost a home non-conference night game since 1995.


Zach Heilprin (0-1, 0-1 ATS)’s prediction: Wisconsin 51, Eastern Michigan 13
Ebo 0-1, 0-1 ATS’s prediction: Wisconsin 42, Eastern Michigan 7
Nelson Raisbeck 0-1, 0-1 ATS ’s prediction: Wisconsin 52, Eastern Michigan 14
RJ Brachman 0-1, 0-1 ATS ’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Eastern Michigan 14
Ben Kenney 0-1, 0-1 ATS ’s prediction: Wisconsin 42, Eastern Michigan 14