The No. 9 ranked Wisconsin Badger football team got their 2020 season off to a strong start with a dominant victory over Illinois. Though the Illini kept it close early on, Wisconsin soon pulled away.
The Badgers, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, hoped to continue their hot streak against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Halloween night, but the game was canceled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among Wisconsin players and coaches.
If the Nebraska game had been played, Wisconsin would have almost assuredly emerged victorious, due in no small part to its tenacious defense. The Badgers shut down Illinois in their first game of the season and prevented the Illini from scoring a single touchdown on offense and winning 45-7.
Nebraska poses some different challenges than Illinois, but it was still a winnable game for Wisconsin. The presence of Mertz as quarterback would have been a game-changer for the University of Wisconsin, but junior Danny Vanden Boom possesses the skills and experience to lead the Badgers to victory in place of Mertz.
Mertz found tight-end Jake Ferguson early and often in their win against Illinois. In the game, Ferguson recorded three touchdowns and would have likely been featured as a prominent part of the Badgers’ game plan.
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Wisconsin defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk has been an impact player early on as well. Loudermilk recorded two tackles and a sack against the Illini. Loudermilk would’ve continued his strong play, flustering Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Some key stats to know on the Nebraska side are that the Huskers surrendered nearly 500 yards of offense in their first game against Ohio State and allowed the Buckeyes to convert 28 first downs. Wisconsin’s offense led by Offensive Coordinator Joe Rudolph would’ve found gaping holes in the Cornhuskers’ defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Badgers would have faced a challenge defensively in Martinez, a dangerous dual-threat who leads the Cornhuskers in passing and rushing. Martinez’s receivers did not perform well against Ohio State, meaning that Wisconsin could have experienced success by blitzing Martinez and putting him under pressure to force him to throw deep downfield.
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Nebraska was pounded 52–17 by Ohio State, and the Huskers would not have fared much better against the Badgers. This lopsided result parallels my final score prediction for the Wisconsin-Nebraska game, with the Badgers taking home a 35–10 victory if the game had been played. Wisconsin’s offense was unstoppable against Illinois, and that momentum would have likely continued against a vulnerable Nebraska defense.