Wisconsin hammered Northwestern 42-7 to give interim coach Jim Leonhard a win his debut on Saturday in Evanston.
QB Graham Mertz
The junior delivered another very good effort on his way to throwing for a career-high 299 yards and matching his career best with five touchdowns. Mertz really got going on UW’s second drive that went 98 yards in nine plays. He was 4-for-4 for 53 yards and hit a wide-open Skyler Bell for a 15-yard touchdown off of play action. In total, the Badgers had 350 yards and four touchdown drives in the first half, and finished with 515 yards, their most in a Big Ten game since last year at Rutgers.
RB Braelon Allen
Allen topped 100 yards for the second time this year in Big Ten play, getting 135 on 23 carries. It wasn’t overly flashy outside of an early 33-yard run. But he was able to pick and choose holes this week after not seeing any daylight a week ago against Illinois. As an added bonus, he also threw for a touchdown out of the wildcat, buying time to find Chez Mellusi for a 23-yard score.
Getting the ball to the junior was a clear focus for Mertz and the offense. He was targeted on the first three passes of the game and saw 11 balls come his way. Dike made the most of nearly all of them, turning in a career game with 10 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns. All of those figures were the most he’s ever had and are all top-10 marks in Wisconsin history.
After the run game was non-existent and Mertz was sacked five times against Illinois, the Badgers ran for 193 yards and Mertz was barely touched.
LB Nick Herbig
Herbig led the defense in tackles with seven, while also picking up his fifth sack of the season. He turned the sack into more by stripping the ball from quarterback Brendon Sullivan with the Badgers recovering it. Earlier in the game, he pressured quarterback Ryan Hilinski on what would turn into his first interception of the day. The junior, who took the firing of Paul Chryst hard, also delivered the game ball to Leonhard in the locker room.
S Kamo’i Latu
It was a very good day for the other Hawaiian on the defense, too, as Latu was all over the field. He had three tackles but more importantly he had a pair of interceptions. The second one came on fourth down at the goal line and snuffed out a Northwestern scoring chance.
Nick Herbig on his emotions on Paul Chryst: "I lost one of my best friends that I saw every day. I talked to him last night on the phone before the game. I miss that guy for sure. I know he was watching us today, though. And if he’s watching this I love him. I love you, Coach."
— Wisconsin nose tackle Keeanu Benton left in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. He appeared to be moving around fine after the game.
— Wisconsin cornerback Cedrick Dort suffered an ugly looking head injury in the third quarter. He was motionless for a few minutes before sitting up and being helped onto a cart. Leonhard said after the game Dort was doing better.
— Northwestern lost quarterback Ryan Hilinski to an injury in the third quarter. He was hurt trying to make a tackle after his second interception.
— Wisconsin wore red pants for the second time this season. The Badgers are now outscoring opponents 108-14 in the red bottoms.
Inside the Numbers
3 – That is how many Wisconsin coaches (since 1936) have won their first Big Ten game after Leonhard earned his first win Saturday. The others are Dave McClain (1978) and Gary Andersen (2013).
28 – That is how many years to the day since the last time Wisconsin handled Northwestern in Evanston like it did Saturday. In 1994, the Badgers won by 34. Since that game, they had won just three times on the long grass of Ryan Field.
6 – That is how many passing touchdowns Wisconsin had in the game. It’s the most in school history.
2 – That is how many five touchdown games Graham Mertz has in his career. He’s the only Wisconsin quarterback to do that.
2008 – That is the last time Wisconsin started the season 0-3 in Big Ten play. With the win Saturday, the Badgers avoided that fate and improved to 1-2 in league play.
Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2) will head to East Lansing to face Michigan State (2-4, 0-3) next Saturday.