The No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) avenged their 2019 loss to the Illinois Illini (0-1), 45-7, behind the arm of redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz.
Mertz, who moved into the starting roll for Wisconsin following Jack Coan’s ankle injury, tied the program record of 17 consecutive completions in a single game, which was previously held by Tanner McEvoy. Mertz’s 18th pass attempt was dropped.
Mertz finished the game 20-of-21 for 248 yards and five touchdowns.
Jake Ferguson, who was Mertz’s top target in the game, scored three touchdowns, becoming the first Wisconsin tight end to score multiple touchdowns since Jacob Pedersen did so on Sept 10, 2011.
Ferguson, whose second quarter fumble was returned by Tarique Barnes for an Illinois touchdown, rebounded well during Wisconsin’s ensuing drive, hauling in a 34-yard reception which set up his 14-yard touchdown reception, his second score of the game.
Wisconsin’s defense picked up where it left off in 2019, forcing a turnover on the second play of the game, when Garrett Rand forced a Mike Epstein fumble which was recoved by Noah Burks.
The turnover led to Mertz’s first touchdown pass of the night, which went to Mason Stokke, which capped off a six-play, 33-yard drive.
The defense did not stop there though, picking up two sacks, following a team record 50 sacks in 2019, all while stifling the Illinois offense, with the exception of quarterback Brandon Peters who rushed seven times for 75 yards.
Overall, the Illinois offense managed only 218 yards and was 2-10 on third down and 0-3 on fourth down.
The Wisconsin ground game gained 182 yards in its first game since losing Jonathan Taylor to the NFL. Garrett Groshek led the way with 70 rushing yards.
The Badgers will travel to Nebraska next weekend, for a 2:30 kick off on Halloween.