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MINNEAPOLIS — A matchup of two of the best defenses in the Big Ten Conference has lived up to the billing so far between the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Badgers’ defense is the highest scoring unit of the game so far, with senior safety Scott Nelson’s pick-6 being the only touchdown in a 10-6 contest thus far. A half marred by a combined eight penalties ended with the Badgers leading but lamenting some missed chances.

Here are three observations from the first half.

Penalties make things difficult

UW isn’t doing itself a ton of favors with its play while being officiated by a flag-happy crew.

The Badgers have been flagged five times for 43 yards, including once in the red zone and once on special teams that pushed the offense back to the 8-yard line on the opening drive. Fullback John Chenal was called for a questionable holding penalty to negate a big run by Braelon Allen and senior left tackle Tyler Beach false started.

Cleaner play will help UW get the refs out of the game.

Badgers defense shaky to start

Things didn’t get much better for the defense after senior safety Collin Wilder was ejected for targeting on the first play from scrimmage. Minnesota drove 14 plays for 65 yards to tally a field goal. It marked the second time all season, but second game in a row, the opponent has scored on the first drive against UW. Northwestern drove into the red zone against UW on the first series two weeks ago, but an interception kept it off the board.

The pass rush isn’t getting home against Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan despite some of the inside linebacker rushes that have been so effective for UW this season. The Badgers must find a way to get Morgan uncomfortable, whether it’s another blitzer or it’s attacking from different angles.

Mertz’s misses costly

UW quarterback Graham Mertz has had an up-and-down half. He’s getting multiple receivers involved, as his top three wideouts all have catches, and he’s 11 of 15 for 79 yards, but he’s missed on two crucial attempts that cost UW points.

He didn’t get enough on a pass to Chimere Dike in the end zone that could’ve been a touchdown after Dike got separation, and Mertz missed a pass over the middle to Danny Davis that could’ve been a big play as well. Minnesota didn’t have a man deeper than 10 yards on the right side of the field, and Davis would’ve had a foot race to the end zone.

Mertz could have a big second half if he dials it in a touch more.

Injury update

Here’s a look at the Badgers’ injury situation at halftime.

Ruled out before the game

UW does not give reasons as to why players are unavailable on its status reports.

WR A.J. Abbott

RB Jackson Acker

TE Hayden Rucci

K Jack Van Dyke

Follow all the second-half action below: 

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This article originally ran on madison.com.

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