In their home opener, the No. 14 University of Wisconsin football team cruised to a comfortable 45–7 victory Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
The win marked the Badgers’ 24th consecutive win in their home opener, a remarkable feat. The Badgers controlled the game from the get-go and never trailed in their win.
The story of the game was the fantastic play of talented redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. After senior quarterback Jack Coan was ruled out indefinitely with a foot injury during practice, Mertz took control of the offense and exceeded expectations, going 20-for-21 in the passing game and finishing with 248 yards and five touchdowns.
Mertz impressively had great command of the offense and showcased his impressive arm talent in the Badgers’ win.
Along with turning Badger fans’ heads, Mertz etched his name into the Wisconsin football record books. Mertz tied former Badger Tanner McEvoy’s 2014 mark for consecutive completions in a game with 17. Another offensive standout was junior tight end Jake Ferguson who recorded three receiving touchdowns.
Wisconsin’s defense was also dominant in the win under the leadership of Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard. The stifling defense was able to put constant pressure on Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters. Peters was only able to put up a dismal 87 yards through the air.
Though Wisconsin’s defense is experienced on the front and back ends with an array of veteran starters, the Badgers mixed freshman outside linebacker Nick Herbig into the starting lineup.
Herbig — who made news by impressing his peers throughout Wisconsin’s first couple of practices — rushed the passer well alongside junior Jack Sanborn, even recording a sack in his first career game. Hopefully, this is a sign of big things to come from the true freshman.
Though the Badgers’ win was impressive, there were a few glaring concerns. Wisconsin struggled to contain Peters on the ground and gave up 75 rushing yards to the sneakily athletic quarterback. Look for Leonhard’s defense to review Peters’ long scampers in film this week.
Without Jonathan Taylor, it appeared that the Badgers went through some growing pains and struggled at times to run the ball effectively. While the Badgers finished with 182 rushing yards, they struggled to run the ball in the first half, recording 62 yards on 22 carries.
The Badgers will look to ride the momentum of a decisive home win next week as they travel to Lincoln to take on Nebraska on Halloween.