The 2021 season is just a day away and today, we caught up with Tyler Hunt of Bucky’s 5th Quarter to learn more about the Nittany Lions opening week matchup, the Big Ten West’s premier program, the Wisconsin Badgers.
1) After an up and down season in 2020, how are Badgers fans feeling entering this season? What are the expectations entering the season?
I think Badger fans are cautiously optimistic entering 2021, probably similar to Penn State fans. The season wasn’t great in 2020 but how much can you really take from it? To me, it was a glorified tune-up for 2021 for pretty much every team outside of your blue bloods. Overall, I think fans expect things to be better this year as they cleaned up some of the issues offensively, and defensively things should be just as stout as ever if not better but until it’s seen on the field I think some are a little reserved.
2) Graham Metz at times last year looked like an elite quarterback and at other times, he looked the part of a freshman getting his taste of Power Five football. What’s the general feeling regarding Mertz around the program, fan base, etc?
I think the opinion on Graham Mertz fluctuates greatly based on which fan you ask. I, personally, have been called a Mertz apologist so you can see where I land. I believe Mertz had a lot of outside factors hinder his ability last year. There were injuries all over the offense, including his own shoulder injury and COVID stint. Also, the play calling was all sorts of bad and out of sync. Paul Chryst takes over the reins as play-caller and quarterback coach this year and the team is much healthier so I think Mertz is due for a strong season in 2021.
3) Last year, the Badgers run game was uncharacteristically bad, how have the Badgers addressed this issue during the offseason, and what are the expectations for the run game in 2021?
As I mentioned above, Paul Chryst takes back over as the play-caller which means Joe Rudolph (former OC) moves back to focusing solely on the offensive line which is his strength. I think that combo alone should allow Wisconsin to get back to the fundamentals as each coach is playing to their strength once again.
Additionally, Wisconsin went out and got former Clemson tailback Chez Mellusi who has nabbed the starting spot from 4-star tailback Jalen Berger. The Badgers have what I think will be a strong 1-2 combo with those two. If things are better upfront they should be due for strong seasons.
4) If Penn State is going to beat Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions will have to do what in your mind? Additionally, what do you think is one thing Wisconsin is going to have to do well to win this one on Saturday?
I think for Penn State to win this game they’ll have to win the matchups in the trenches. From what I have seen Penn State is breaking in some new faces in both trenches and I think Wisconsin will have to try and exploit that. I also think they’ll have to keep Sean Clifford clean and hit the explosive plays Mike Yurcich is looking for.
If Wisconsin is going to win this game they need to win in the trenches on both sides of the football, and they have to get more pressure than they did last year. Jim Leonhard’s defense runs on creating havoc and if they are wanting to win this game they need to be in the face of Sean Clifford early and often to prevent him from getting the ball to the variety of skill position players that the Nittany Lions have.
5) Who are one or two players on both sides of the ball do you think could make a big impact on this game on Saturday that the average Penn State or Big Ten fan may not be thinking about?
On offense, Chez Mellusi is going to be the name getting this running game going. He won the job over a very talented kid in Berger which says a lot. Additionally, Jake Ferguson at tight end is a name they might know but to watch for in the passing game.
On defense Wisconsin is going to need big games from their nose tackle Keanu Benton and their inside linebacker Leo Chenal. If either of those two are eating and making plays Wisconsin is likely in a good spot as it means the pressure is getting home. It all starts with Benton at nose tackle as he is an NFL guy waiting due for a big season.
6) What is your prediction for the game but also how do you expect the Badgers season to turn out in 2021?
I think this game will be close and tight but I will pick the Badgers as a homer. Overall, I think this game being at home is HUGE for UW. Additionally, I like that Wisconsin gets Penn State early while they break in the new offense and new faces up front on defense. Later in the year it could be a different story. I’ll take the Badgers in a tight one 27-20.
Once again, thank you to Tyler for his time this week!