Graham Mertz was the talk of Friday night’s B1G opener. The redshirt freshman shined in his first career start at Wisconsin, completing 20-of-21 passes and ending the night with 5 touchdowns in the Badgers’ win over Illinois.

What didn’t get enough recognition, though, was the Wisconsin defense against the Fighting Illini. In the 45-7 victory, the Badgers defense didn’t allow a point, with Illinois’ lone touchdown coming on a scoop-and-score in the first half.

The Illinois offense totaled just 218 yards of offense, picked up a paltry 8 first downs and had two turnovers in the loss. While Mertz was certainly the star of Friday’s B1G opener, Herbstreit says that Wisconsin’s defense, and its coordinator, did not get enough credit.

“Wisconsin, all the talk about Graham Mertz — and he was phenomenal, let’s hope he’s OK … I know he tested positive for COVID — but a remarkable first start in for (fifth-year senior quarterback) Jack Coan and that was kind of the takeaway for most people and it should have been, he played incredibly well, most highly ranked quarterback they ever recruited at Wisconsin (and) he lived up to it when he got his opportunity,” Herbstreit said on the CFB Podcast with Herbie, Pollack & Neghandi. “But I think one of the best coordinators in the country that not a lot of people even know is out there is Jim Leonhard at Wisconsin.

“Their defense every year is as multiple as anybody’s. It almost doesn’t even matter who’s on the team. They’re just so well schooled and they prevent the big play. They get you to third down. They give you so many exotics, pre snap to post snap. He played at Wisconsin. He played in the NFL. The ultimate overachiever, gym rat. His team kind of, his defense, really buys into his approach.

“And I just think that it’d be interesting to watch them defensively this year while most of the attention’s going towards that offense. Don’t sleep on the Wisconsin defense. And they’ll be tested a lot more, obviously, down the road. But he just does a very, very consistent job year in and year out there.”

Wisconsin will have to play several talented offenses this season, taking on Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan in the next three contests. But the Badgers always field a stout defense, and this year appears to be no different.

Leonhard certainly deserves to get more credit than he’s receiving.