Behind Enemy Lines: Wisconsin

The Terps look to finally head towards the direction of getting fully healthy coming off of their bye week as they head to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are 4-4, but 2-1 under interim Head Coach Jim Leonhard. This is just the Terps third road trip of the season, second in conference play. This week I talked to Matt Belz of All Badgers who covers the Badger football team to get a closer look at what to expect from the Badgers on Saturday.

John Gugs: After the firing of Paul Chryst, the Badgers are 2-1 under Jim Leonhard. Is there anything different the team has shown in the last three games from the first five games that has made them a more dangerous team to face?

Matt Belz: The team has responded well to Jim Leonhard. I believe the biggest difference is the willingness to fight that the team has shown recently. Earlier in the year, the Badgers folded if they encountered adversity, and under Leonhard, the team has done a much better job of responding in the past three games.

JG: Like always, on offense the Badgers bread and butter is their run game. If the erps defense is able to slow the run game down Saturday how much faith do you have in Mertz and the passing game to get the win?

MB: Mertz has played much better this season, but there are still pockets of inconsistency for he and the Wisconsin offense. I think there is a greater confidence that Mertz can deliver across the fanbase, but how well he and the passing game fare will likely determine how well the offense looks on Saturday. I do believe that Maryland will be able to limit what Wisconsin wants to do on the ground, making it essential for offensive coordinator Bobby Engram to continue to throw the ball on early downs. Mertz has been at his best throwing on first down and off play-action this season, but I still think there are enough questions about the passing game to have Wisconsin fans on edge about this matchup.

JG: Wisconsin ranks 33rd (342.9 yards per game) in the country in total defense while the Terps offense ranks 28th (455 yards per game) in the country in total offense. How confident are you in the defense to slow down the Terps offense?

MB: The Badgers are healthier in the secondary after the bye week, which is great news for Wisconsin. However, Maryland’s talent on the outside is extremely dangerous, and Wisconsin’s cornerbacks have struggled with penalties at times this season. Michigan State was able to throw the ball against Wisconsin, but Purdue was not nearly as successful. I think the Badgers are going to need to generate some takeaways to get Maryland’s offense off the field, but like the passing game, it is hard to know exactly how well the defense will play with the explosiveness that Maryland plays with.

JG: Both Teams are coming off much needed bye weeks. The Terps are getting back Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa as well as some other key players. Are there any key players the Badgers are expecting to either get back or will be out this weekend?

MB: Safety Hunter Wohler and right tackle Riley Mahlman will be back this week for the Badgers, two players that have missed most of the season after opening the season as starters. Outside linebacker Nick Herbig is also supposed to play this weekend as well after missing the Purdue game. Overall, all three players are big additions to Wisconsin.

JG: Nick Herbig leads the Big Ten in TFLs and sacks. What is it about Herbig that makes him so dynamic? And is there anyone else in the front seven that the Terps offensive line should worry about as well?

MB: Herbig is an incredibly twitchy and cerebral player. He has a tireless motor and plays with an aggressiveness coaches love. Beyond Herbig, I think the two players to know in the front seven are nose tackle Keeanu Benton and inside linebacker Jordan Turner. Benton is a strong presence against the run in the middle of Wisconsin’s defense, and he has two sacks this season. Turner is coming off his best game at Wisconsin, with an interception and multiple big stops near the goal line against Purdue. He is a very athletic linebacker that runs well and has a nose for the football, especially in coverage.

JG: Give a prediction for the game and why you think it will go that way.

MB: I see this game as a true toss-up. I think that Maryland presents a really tough matchup for Wisconsin because of what they can do on offense. In the end, I think this is going to be a game that will be determined by turnovers and penalties. Both teams have been undisciplined at times this season, and for Wisconsin, that has been most apparent in their losses. Whichever team wins the turnover battle and commits fewer penalties will likely come away with a victory, though I could see it going either direction. If I have to pick a winner, I will go with Wisconsin by a point or two because they are at home, but I would say the exact opposite if the game was in College Park.

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