Wisconsin football: Handing out grades for Week 1 win over Illinois State
Wisconsin opened the 2022 season Saturday with a 38-0 shutout of Illinois State in Madison. While that result was not totally unexpected, there were some notes to take out of the win on both sides of the ball.
Here are some grades for key players – and key units – to keep in mind as the Badgers rest up and regroup for Week 2:
QB Graham Mertz – A+
Graham Mertz enters a crucial season for his time with the Badgers, and it is fair to say he is under the microscope. While a strong outing against Illinois State doesn’t really guarantee anything in terms of his full 2022 performance, struggling would have been a huge red flag moving forward.
Fortunately, Mertz did not only struggle, he was magnificent. He finished the game with a nearly perfect 14-for-16 throwing the ball and was spinning it beautifully throughout the game.
Mertz posted 219 yards and a perfectly thrown touchdown to Chimere Dike in the win. He also avoided the costly mistake and finished with a turnover-free performance to open the season.
Now, Mertz needs to show he can put up a similar performance against Power 5 competition, but he aced the first test of the season.
RB Braelon Allen – A+
There was very little concern for Braelon Allen entering the game, and he proved once again that he’s a workhorse for the Badgers and positioned to be one of the best backs in the B1G.
Allen finished the game with his first 100-yard performance of the season (148 yards on 14 carries) and 2 touchdowns. He also set the program record for the longest rushing touchdown with a 96-yard effort.
Chez Mellusi and Julius Davis also performed well behind Allen, proving Wisconsin is back to having a deep backfield with multiple options available. But it all starts with Allen, and he looks ready for big things in 2022.
Passing Defense – B-
At first glance, the raw numbers look good for Wisconsin’s pass defense. The Badgers limited ex-Minnesota QB Zack Annexstad to 16-for-24 passing with 186 yards and 2 interceptions.
However, a deeper glance showed some concerning trends. Annexstad completed 4 passes of 25+ yards, showing that the Redbirds were able to gash Wisconsin’s defense on a handful of occasions.
The Badgers were playing without Alexander Smith in the opener. And the 2 interceptions are a big deal, including John Torchio’s huge pick-6 to open the scoring.
Jim Leonhard will definitely have something to say about the big plays surrendered, and it gives the unit one area to work on entering Week 2.
Rushing Defense – A
As well as Wisconsin ran the ball, the Badgers were equally impressive at shutting down the run game of Illinois State in the opener. Even with the sack yardage removed, Wisconsin surrendered just 69 rushing yards to the Redbirds on 18 carries.
The longest run given up by the defense was also 14 yards, so the ground game was never a serious threat to break something open against the Badgers.
Wisconsin’s work in defending the run is not surprising, but it’s still important for the unit to plug the gaps with some young players stepping into the middle of the defense this season.
Overall – A
Wisconsin did what it was supposed to in the Week 1 win. While there is not always a lot to take away from a win against such an opponent, the Badgers have also been guilty of occasionally playing down to opponents.
For Wisconsin to reach its ultimate goals this season, the Badgers will need to play their game each time out, regardless of who is lined up on the other side of the ball. In Week 1, that was a resounding success for head coach Paul Chryst and company.