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Wisconsin football: three things that stood out versus Northwestern

We review the takeaways that emerged from Saturday’s win over Northwestern.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Northwestern at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (7-3 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) obtained their sixth straight win on Saturday, dominating Northwestern 35-7 at Camp Randall Stadium. While the cold weather was less than ideal, the Badgers had everything clicking and ran away with the game in the second and third quarters.

Let’s look back at what stood out from the conference win over the ‘Cats.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Cornerback Dean Engram celebrates his first interception of the year.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaway central

The Wisconsin defense was in an unfamiliar situation early in the game against Northwestern. After the Badgers offense pinned Northwestern at their own eight-yard line, the Wildcats slowly and methodically moved the ball down the field and into the red zone on the other end of the field. The drive took well over seven minutes and it appeared as though Northwestern would be able to grab an early lead.

Then Caesar Williams happened. The senior cornerback made a play on a pass attempt in the end zone and managed to secure an interception to end the drive. The interception was his second in the past two games, and it dramatically shifted momentum in the game.

For the game, the Badgers managed to generate four interceptions, and the defense once again did not allow a score while they were on the field. Wisconsin has drastically shifted its turnover margin this season and it is one of the most influential parts of the turnaround of the season.

Per usual, Leo Chenal also had a monster game with 14 tackles and a sack, while fellow inside linebacker Jack Sanborn added 10 tackles and three tackles for a loss as well. The Badgers defense will have a bigger challenge next weekend versus Nebraska, but the way they have been playing this season has been incredibly impressive.

On the money

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz put together a really strong performance on Saturday. The sophomore signal-caller was incredibly poised in the pocket and was on target all day long.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Graham Mertz was in a rhythm all game long against Northwestern.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

His accuracy on inside breaking routes was on full display, and he was throwing incredibly confidently. For the game, he finished 18-of-23 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Mertz was intercepted by Brandon Joseph on a pass where Mertz was just trying to do too much late in the second quarter, but beyond that pass he was excellent.

It was not long ago where Mertz was struggling to connect and find a rhythm. He has combined to complete 74% of his passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns compared to only two interceptions in the past two games.

Most importantly, he looks much more confident and the offense looks like everyone expected it to entering the season. Mertz and the Wisconsin offensive line are in a much better place now, and fans should be happy with how they have looked the past few games.

Braelon Allen

The Wisconsin offense has looked much better of late. While the offensive line and Graham Mertz are playing much better, I still believe the primary reason for the turnaround is Braelon Allen. His presence on the field has dramatically shifted how defenses have to gameplan against the Badgers, and he makes everyone around him better. Allen is special.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin
Braelon Allen is just built different.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Despite playing through some obvious pain at times, No. 0 put together another huge game on Saturday versus Northwestern. I don’t need to remind you about his age, but the freshman carried the ball 25 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns, with the vast majority of his yardage coming after contact. His balance and ability to break tackles really pop, and in November having a back that breaks the will of the defense like Allen is a great recipe for success.

Even when myself and many others were scratching their head why he was still in the game up 28 points, he rattled off a 33-yard touchdown run that put an exclamation point on his day.

With starting running back Chez Mellusi down for the rest of the year, it is the Braelon Allen show moving forward. Brady Schipper saw some meaningful carries to spell him, but it seems as though trust is still being built with the rest of the running back room after both Julius Davis and Jackson Acker fumbled against Northwestern.

As everyone can see, Allen is a tremendous talent, and he will likely be the workhorse the rest of the year. The Badgers offense has looked much better when the 238-pound freshman is on the field dating all the way back to the Michigan game where both scoring drives included him.

The Badgers have their next great back, and the entire team is rallying around it.