Rapid Reaction: 4 interceptions fuels Wisconsin in Duke's Mayo Bowl win over Wake Forest
Final score: Wisconsin 42 Wake Forest 28
Quick recap: After the first quarter, Wisconsin found itself in a bit of a pickle in Wednesday’s Duke May Bowl. Wake Forest jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and was in complete control of the game. The Badgers offense struggled to move the football and the defense was getting torched regularly by the Demon Deacon offense. But once Wisconsin got settled in, life got a bit easier. Graham Mertz was able to lead the Badgers on an 11-play, 75-yard drive for their first touchdown of the game. Then, Wisconsin’s Jaylan Franklin blocked a punt midway through the second quarter, setting up a tying touchdown just a few plays later. Wake Forest scored the first touchdown of the third quarter to take a 21-14 lead, but after that, it was all Wisconsin. After knotting the game at 21-21, the Badgers intercepted Sam Hartman on four straight possessions and were able to build an insurmountable 42-21 lead to get a huge bowl victory.
Key moment: With the score tied at 21-21, Noah Burks recorded his first interception of the season off an ill-advised pass by Hartman. Two plays later, the Badgers scored on a 14-yard pass from Mertz to Mason Stokke to take a touchdown lead. Wisconsin never looked back.
Key player: This is going to go to Wisconsin’s entire defense. Anytime you can intercept passes on four-consecutive drives, it’s an entire team effort. Credit to Collin Wilder, Scott Nelson, Jack Sanborn and Burks, who were responsible for forcing those turnovers and sealing the victory for the Badgers.
Key stat: Do you really have to ask? The four turnovers were the biggest difference in the game. Wake Forest had more first downs than Wisconsin, outgained the Badgers by over 200 yards (gaining more than 500 for the contest) and the penalties were pretty even throughout the game. Those four picks proved costly for the Deacons.
What it means for Wisconsin (4-3): Despite some really ugly offensive performances, this year, Wisconsin does end the season on a positive note. The Badgers found a way to knock off rival Minnesota and had a big victory in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to finish the year with a 4-3 record. There are still a ton of questions about where this offense goes, especially at the quarterback position. Graham Mertz was far from the star quarterback we saw in Week 1 against Illinois. Injuries to Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor caused problems at wide receiver, and Jalen Berger is still getting his footing as a freshman running back. This team certainly has the pieces to be successful moving forward, and it will be interesting to see what they can accomplish with a full offseason to gel as a team.