It was a beatdown against Northwestern over the weekend, with Wisconsin handily winning 42-7. The Badgers are now 3-3, while Northwestern is now 1-5. It was a great Big 10 win for the Badgers and a necessary one at that. It helps to overcome the recent firing of their head coach, Paul Chryst, and the back-to-back losses against Ohio State and Illinois in the prior weekends.
Quarterback Graham Mertz threw for a career-high on Saturday (299 yards) and matched a career-best with five touchdowns. Wide receiver Chimere Dike set personal bests with 185 receiving yards and three touchdown catches. Running back Braelon Allen rushed for 135 yards and threw a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter as well.
Jim Leonhard’s first game as head coach was a success. Wisconsin absolutely dominated Northwestern on offense and defense. It is important to point out that Northwestern is an unranked Big 10 team that has also been struggling to win games. Their only win was against Nebraska and they lost their other four games (Duke, Southern IL, Miami OH, and Penn State).
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Wisconsin went into the second half with a 28-0 lead and an easy win on the horizon. Mertz completed 20 of 29 passes, which is a great turnout for him. He had previously struggled to connect with his receivers and create successful plays.
Dike came out as the MVP of the game, catching 10 passes and easily surpassing his previous high of 106 yards. He also caught a pass from Mertz over the middle and outran Northwestern’s defenders for a 52-yard score.
After Mertz lost his top tight end (Clay Cundiff) in the Ohio State game, it was a big question whether or not he was going to create chemistry with another receiver. Cundiff left a gaping hole in terms of offensive talent. However, it turns out Mertz found his dynamic duo partner in this game. Dike proved himself as one of Mertz’s top targets on Saturday, which led him to land his career-bests.
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Wisconsin finished with 515 total yards and 193 rushing yards after being held to just two yards rushing on 24 carries against Illinois. The best play of the game was when Mertz hit a wide-open wide receiver in Skyler Bell for a 15-yard touchdown. This touchdown preceded Wisconsin’s 98-yard drive.
Not only was Wisconsin’s offense on fire and looking good on Saturday but so was their defense. Linebacker Nick Herbig had seven tackles and forced a fumble against Northwestern’s offense. Defensive end James Thompson Jr. recovered that fumble. Junior safety Kamo’i Latu intercepted Northwestern’s quarterback near midfield and again later in the game to end with two interceptions.
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Wisconsin was favored to win by 10 points and they put on a dominant, all-around great performance. The offense looked like a different team last week, a team that reminded a lot of fans of what the Badgers’ offense used to look like in 2019. That was the golden year with running back Jonathan Taylor at the helm.
People are speculating that the success of last Saturday’s offense was because Paul Chryst was not there to over-insert himself in the play-calling. Maybe the sudden shift in coaching sparked an awakening in the Badgers to start performing as a Big 10 team should.
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Wisconsin’s defense has really struggled the past two weeks against Illinois and Ohio State. This is odd for a team nationally known for its dominance and strength on the defensive side of things. They allowed a total of 342 yards against Northwestern, compared to 539 yards and 52 points against Ohio State. Wisconsin only allowed 304 yards against Illinois but gave up 34 points in the loss.
It has been a very turmoil-filled and emotional season for the Badgers so far. They’ve had to deal with the brutal loss against Ohio State, the loss of senior tight end Clay Cundiff, a loss against Illinois at home, and the firing of their head coach. Despite all that, they came up firing and improved to 3-3 on the season. This is also Wisconsin’s first win in Evanston since 2016.
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Again, Northwestern is not a Big 10 powerhouse team but a win is a win! Hopefully, this win will provide momentum and courage to the Badgers as they play Michigan State away this Saturday at 3:00 PM CT.
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