(18) Wisconsin 38, Illinois State 0: 2-minute drill

MADISON — No. 18 Wisconsin got two touchdowns from Braelon Allen on its way to a 38-0 season-opening win over Illinois State on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Game Balls


RB Braelon Allen

He only got 14 carries but he made the most of them. It included a 96-yard touchdown where he broke one tackle at the line of scrimmage and then outran the Redbirds defense to the end zone.

“It was a little bit cloudy at first,” Allen said of his blocking. “I kind of tried to take it back side, ran into somebody, bounced off of him and there was nobody left.”

One of the Illinois State defensive backs chased Allen down, nipping at his ankles in the final 10 yards before he got into the end zone.

“There was a part of me that was like, he might catch up to me but I knew I wasn’t going to get tackled,” Allen said. “I was pretty tired, I’m not going to lie.”

It was the longest run in school history, topping the previous best of 93 yards by James White against Indiana in 2013. It was also the longest by a Big Ten player since 1987. Allen finished with 148 yards and two scores, with his last carry coming with 3:18 left in the third quarter.

QB Graham Mertz

Wisconsin didn’t need to pass much but Mertz was locked in from the jump. After his first pass was dropped by Markus Allen, the junior ripped off 13 straight completions to six different receivers. He seemed more willing to take what the defense was giving him, routinely letting his guys do the work after the catch, especially when targeting tight ends Clay Cundiff and Hayden Rucci, along with wide receiver Chimere Dike.

“I think you could see his confidence, especially in the second half,” Rucci said. “It was good to see him balling again.”

Mertz definitely benefited from solid pass protection much of the night, taking only one sack, though that hit did land him in the injury tent to be checked out.

The quarterback ended up 14-for-16 for 219 yards with both incompletions being drops. It was his best statistical effort since his first start against Illinois. Does it mean he’s the quarterback everyone expected when he arrived on campus with unparalleled hype? No. It was an FCS team. But it was a good first step to a critical year for Mertz and the offense.

WR Chimere Dike

After not having a catch in the first half, the Badgers No. 1 wide receiver caught three passes for 106 yards. It included a pretty 74-yard run off a screen pass that was setup perfectly by new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram.

“It’s more of a game plan thing,” Mertz said of the play. “You get a defense where you run the ball really well, get a lot of flow out of linebackers, and then it’s how do you spread the ball out, make them truly cover the whole field. Coach Engram did a really good job of seeing that, knew we had it, so it was fun to hit that one.”

Dike knew it had a great chance to be a big play when he saw one of Illinois State’s safeties blitz off the edge.

“Yeah, it was something a little different that we didn’t have last year,” said Dike, who would catch a 16-yard touchdown just a few plays later. “Luckily, they were able to trust us with it and we were able to execute. I was able to hit it. I wish I would have got away, but I sure tried by best. It was really positive to see something like that happen. Hopefully, we can do some more stuff like that.”

Mertz said with a laugh you can expect a “couple more” wrinkles to the offense as the season progresses.


S John Torchio

The senior’s nickname is the jewelry thief and he was back at it Saturday night making a huge, momentum-shifting play, when he read quarterback Zach Annexstad’s eyes, stepped in front of a pass at the goal line and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

“I think that’s the play of the game,” outside linebacker Nick Herbig said. “Hats off to Torch. He had a sack and a pick-6. Can’t ask for much more from a safety.”

It was the longest return in school history, besting the 99-yard return by Joe Ferguson in the 2018 season opener. Torchio added a sack and three tackles in the win.

LB Nick Herbig

Herbig wasn’t happy with the defense’s effort after the game, including his own performance, but the junior did make life rough for Annexstad. He got his season started with a pair of sacks and few more hits on the quarterback. Herbig lamented missed tackles and blown assignments, but he was part of a defense that posted its ninth shutout since 2015, the second-most in the country in that time.

They Said It

Herbig on why he called Wisconsin’s defensive performance average:

“Just too many big plays and dumb mistakes. Penalties that shouldn’t happen, missing tackles, missing reads. That’s something we can all clean up on. It’s just little things but we want to be perfect.”

Best Video

Worst Video

Best Tweets

In Case You Missed It

— The Badgers captains were Mertz, Herbig and Keeanu Benton. The honorary captain was former All-Big Ten center Travis Frederick.

— Several true freshmen made their debuts. It included safety Austin Brown, wide receiver Vinny Anthony, offensive lineman Joe Brunner, quarterback Myles Burkett and cornerback Avyonne Jones.

— Tight end Hayden Rucci hauled in his first career catch in the third quarter. His roommates, Joe Tippmann and Mertz, were among the first to greet him with high-fives.

— The Badgers got off to a rough start with penalties, racking up five within the first 16:01 of action. But they settled in and weren’t not called for another penalty in the game.

— Wisconsin lost a pair of starters to injury. Right tackle Riley Mahlman exited in the second half with a leg injury, though he was seen standing on the sideline with a wrap on the leg. Logan Brown replaced him for the remainder of the game.

The more serious injury appears to be to safety Hunter Wohler. He went down in the third quarter. After making it to the sideline, he was carted to the locker room. The sophomore returned to the sideline wearing a boot and on crutches.

— Safety Preston Zachman picked off the first pass of his career. The sophomore has fought through several injuries the last two seasons but could play an important role if Wohler were to miss extended time.

— Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo returned from injuries that ended their seasons last year to see extended time Saturday. Mellusi got 10 carries for 47 yards, while Guerendo scored a rushing touchdown and also had a 33-yard kick return.

Inside the Numbers

66 — That is how many wins coach Paul Chryst has in his tenure at Wisconsin. That’s two shy of Bret Bielema for the most in school history.

15 — That is how many times Wisconsin’s defense has held an opponent without an offensive touchdown under defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. That comes out to nearly 25-percent of the games he’s coached.

2003 – That is the last time a Big Ten team had a run, pass and interception return of 70 yards or more in a single game before the Badgers did it Saturday night.

88 – That was Mertz’s completion percentage. He joins Darrell Bevell as the only Wisconsin quarterbacks with multiple games of completing 88-percent or better of their passes. Mertz owns the school record of 95.2-percent.

15 – That is how many games Wisconsin has gone without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Illinois State’s leading rusher was Nigel White with 22 yards.

4 – That is how many passing plays Illinois State had that went for 23 yards or more. Three of the four came on first down.

2 – That’s how many plays Wisconsin had of more than 70 yards on offense. The Badgers had four all of last year.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (1-0) will welcome Washington State (1-0) to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday with kick at 2:30 p.m.