(14) Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7: 2-minute drill

MADISON — A record-breaking starting debut by Graham Mertz and an overwhelming defensive effort helped No. 14 Wisconsin to a 45-7 season-opening win over Illinois on Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Game Balls

Offense: Graham Mertz

Wisconsin fans waited three years to see Graham Mertz lead the first-team offense and he didn’t disappoint. The redshirt freshman threw four touchdowns in the first half and added a school-record-tying fifth score in the fourth quarter. He tied the school record with 17-straight completions to start the game, and his 95.2% completion percentage broke Alex Hornibrook’s program mark set in 2017. Mertz had complete control of the offense as they battered the Illini for 430 yards, including 248 through the air.

Defense: Rachad Wildgoose

All the talk before the game was on Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. He was the leading receiver for the Illini a year ago and had plans for a breakout game against the Badgers. Wildgoose wasn’t having it. Imatorbhebhe was targeted 10 times but caught just three passes for 26 yards. Only one of the three came easy, as Wildgoose was all over him. The redshirt sophomore also dropped the Illini’s Chase Brown for a 2-yard loss on third-and-10 to force a punt.

The performance helped Wisconsin limit Illinois to only 218 total yards and eight first downs. That included holding the Illini to just 2-for-10 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down.

Best Videos

Best Tweets

Best Postgame Video

In Case You Missed It

— Mertz wasn’t the only freshman to make an impact. Nick Herbig got the start at outside linebacker and recorded his first sack, while safety Titus Toler grabbed an interception in his first game action.

— At least 12 players made their Wisconsin debut, including former five-star offensive tackle Logan Brown. He replaced Cole Van Lanen at left tackle for the final two drives of the game.

— There were no player families or fans in the stadium due to COVID-19. Wisconsin did offer fans a chance to send in a picture that was then put on a cardboard cutout and placed in the stands.

— The Badgers honored Father Mike Burke on their helmets with his initials inside their state of Wisconsin decal. Burke passed away in September after serving as the team chaplain for more than 30 years.

— Wisconsin also placed a new decal featuring a black “W” inside the university crest.

Inside the Numbers

3 — That’s how many touchdown Jake Ferguson had. That’s tied for the most by a Wisconsin tight end in school history. Ferguson also had a career-high seven catches for 72 yards.

99 — That’s how many total yards Garrett Groshek had. It was a career-high for the senior.

43:28 — That’s how long Wisconsin held the ball. It was the most lopsided time of possession they’ve had since a 2004 win over Minnesota.

53 — That’s how long the touchdown Danny Davis caught in the second quarter was. It was the longest reception of his career and his 12th touchdown overall.

3.4 — That was Wisconsin’s average yards per carry. It was the lowest against a team not named Ohio State since the Badgers managed just 3.2 in their Orange Bowl win against Miami in 2017.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (1-0) travels to Lincoln to take on Nebraska (0-0) on Saturday.