Five takeaways from Wisconsin’s victory over Army

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Wisconsin returned to .500 on the season with a 20-14 win over Army last night.

The game was as advertised. It ended short of three hours of real-time, each team relied heavily on the run game and we saw a heavy dose of punters.

More importantly: Iowa lost at home to Purdue while Wisconsin was preparing for the contest. So moving into next weekend’s clash against the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, the Badgers control their own destiny in the Big Ten West.

Related: Army HC Jeff Monken ends press conference with a perfect Wisconsin-related request

We’ll preview that game and Wisconsin’s upcoming showdown with Iowa in the coming weeks. For now, here are five takeaways from Wisconsin’s win over Army:

Jim Leonhard's gameplan was masterful

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst, right, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard argue in vain against a Notre Dame touchdown reception during the second quarter of their game Saturday, September 25, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

Army was able to rush for 179 yards and 3.6 yards per carry. But it was a tale of two halfs, as the Black Knights managed only 48 total yards in the first half yet came back with 224 total yards in the second half (more on that later).

The focus here is Jim Leonhard, who reportedly had been preparing for this game months in advance.

We saw the Badger defensive coordinator recognize a common Army alignment up front with wide splits up front. What did he do? Send Leo Chenal into one of the gaps every single play.

While that worked, what else tells us how good of a job Leonhard did? The Badgers were in position pretty much the entire game. No matter the look Army gave, there was a Wisconsin defender in range to make a play.

That is a pivotal key to success against a triple-option offense. Leonhard had the unit coached perfectly entering the contest.

Mertz--Ferguson was operating at the highest level we've seen this season

Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson (84) picks up 18 yards on a reception during the first quarter of their game against Army Saturday, October 16, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Credit: MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL-USA TODAY NETWORK

Graham Mertz and Jake Ferguson connected for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns in seven games last season. Through five games this year, those numbers stood at only 121 yards and 0 touchdowns.

I thought that production would only skyrocket this season as the two continue to progress as players. But up until last night, that was not the case.

But one of the biggest offensive takeaways from the contest: the duo had its best performance of the season, connecting for 4 catches and 58 yards.

Graham Mertz has always looked like a much better quarterback when targeting Ferguson over the middle compared to Danny Davis or Kendric Pryor on the boundaries. While their shot a touchdown was taken away thanks to blatant defensive pass interference, signs of 2020 form were seen last night from the QB–TE duo.

Jake Ferguson is arguably the team’s best all-around offensive player. This should be a matchup and plan of attack Wisconsin goes to often in the coming weeks.

Braelon Allen continues to show flashes of dominance

Oct 16, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) scores a touchdown against the Army Black Knights during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

How about Braelon Allen.

16 carries, 108 yards, 6.8 yards per carry and 1 touchdown. Between he and Chez Mellusi, Allen looked like the more explosive back throughout the night.

What we are now seeing from Allen is continued comfort and progression from week to week. The more he touches the football, the better we see him at waiting for lanes to develop and hitting those lanes in stride.

For a guy that is old enough to be playing high school football, that’s pretty damn impressive.

Wisconsin's second-half sputters continue

Oct 16, 2021; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst looks to the scoreboard during the second quarter against the Army Black Knights at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

There is one big negative from last night: this Wisconsin Badger team continues to struggle in the second half of football games.

Week 1 against Penn State: the Badgers hand away numerous second-half opportunities inside the red zone, lost the game.

Week 3 against Notre Dame: Wisconsin leads 13-10 in the fourth quarter, lost 41-13.

Week 4 against Michigan: Wisconsin trails 13-10 entering the second half, lost 38-17.

That happened again last night, as Wisconsin controlled the game with a 13-0 lead at halftime after a few impressive scoring drives. They had held Army to only 48 total yards in the first half.

Then after halftime, the Badgers opened with three straight punts and allowed the Black Knights back into the game. Part of it was the trenches on both sides of the ball and part was the offense relinquishing control of the game. But whatever it has been, it’s something that needs to change entering the final stretch of Big Ten play.

It's time we start saying Leo Chenal and NFL Draft Day 2 in the same sentence

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Leo Chenal (5) sacks Army Black Knights quarterback Jabari Laws (1) in the fourth quarter, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

It’s fitting Leo Chenal was the one to make the game-winning play late in the fourth quarter. He was an absolute force last night, recording 17!! total tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble.

We saw Jim Leonhard utilize his speed, athleticism and strength as the play-wrecker up the middle of the Army triple-option offense, and he delivered.

Chenal now has 42 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles on the season after missing the first two games with COVID-19. He has all the tools an NFL team needs: smarts, speed, strength, tackling ability.

The last Badger linebacker to go in the first two days of the NFL Draft was Zack Baun. Chenal is that type of player.

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