Wisconsin started out a little slow, but once again a big defensive play changed the game. How significant was Torchio’s pick 6 to get the momentum rolling?
Tyler: It was huge, overall it seemed to really wake the entire team up and ready to play. Something felt a little off to start, and I think that pick woke everyone up a little bit and things just got rolling from there. Torchio might not be the fastest, strongest, etc but the dude makes plays.
Nick: Well, considering that the Badger offense only ran 3 plays in the first quarter, it was huge and very timely in a game we needed to dominate. It also appeared the defense was kind of on its heels early on. I know it was mostly related to penalties but it was still unsettling to watch at first.
JJ: It was big! This was a game that Wisconsin needed to set the tone in for the season. I don’t think there were any realistic scenarios where the Badgers lost vs Illinois State, but it certainly could put them in a less than ideal spot heading into Washington State if they barely scraped by. Torchio gave the team the big play spark plug they needed to get the energy flowing and really take control of the game.
Speaking of defense, first shutout of the season, what stood out to you from their performance?
Tyler: I think the secondary was what stood out to me the most, specifically at corner. Maybe its a little nitpicky with a shutout, but that group will need to get sharper by week four when they head to Columbus. I do think they will as it was their first game reps at Wisconsin for many of them and I think they’ll mesh more the further the season goes.
Nick: That the leaders stepped up. John Torchio not only had the pick-six but also had the first sack of the game. Nick Herbig also had a couple of sacks that were pretty explosive. I thought that Maema Njongmeta played really well last night as well. Some concerns would be that the secondary kind of gave up a few very easy downfield completions. They surrendered passes of 35, 26, 26, and 23. With better opponents coming up, like Ohio State, they’ll need to limit those big plays. Hopefully getting CB Alexander Smith and CB Justin Clark back will help solidify the back end.
JJ: Honestly what stood out the most was the defensive backs, mainly because I think they were unexpectedly shaky. Like Nick mentioned, the Badger's cornerback core got gashed for several big plays, even if none of those big plays ended up resulting in points. That’s going to be something to be tightened up before Wisconsin takes on a Washington State team that threw the ball 40 times in week one.
All off-season was spent talking about the Badger's new look offense. What did you think of it this week? Do you felt Wisconsin tried to keep it bland in hopes to save some things for later weeks?
Tyler: I do think they kept it a little bland to save some new stuff for Washington State and Ohio State in the coming weeks. Illinois State was a team you could likely beat with your basics. Mertz looked really solid to me, but I need to see it consistently before getting too excited. Overall, not a lot stood out, but I don't think it's a good or a bad thing.
Nick: I told myself I wasn’t going to rush to judgments regarding the offense. They dominated a lesser team as they should have. Graham made solid decisions and kept it clean. At one point I thought he was going to force the ball downfield on a scramble and he ended up pulling it down and taking a couple of yards. I liked the little wrinkles that we did see but I think there is more coming to the offense in the coming weeks.
JJ: I don’t think they kept it intentionally bland to save stuff so much as they kept it simple and effective. Mertz made the throws he needed to make, didn’t push anything, and was rewarded with a highly efficient statline. As expected, the Badgers had no struggles establishing the run and ultimately made Mertz’s day easier. I don’t think we’re really going to see the “new look” part of the option get tested until the Ohio State game.
Which individual stood out to you on the offensive side of the football?
Tyler: I think Graham looked really efficient and took good care of the football. If he can do that consistently this group will be so much better than it was last year. Again, gotta see it week in and week out first.
Nick: Braelon Allen- Carrying the ball 14 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns was about as idea as it gets in the first game of the year.
Graham Mertz - Completing 14/16 with a couple of drops by receivers was incredibly efficient. Again, it was against Illinois state but he did show improvement from last year.
JJ: Mertz came out and did exactly what he needed to do. He seemed to have a renewed confidence and his game reflected that.
Tyler: Torchio and Mertz, just as we all expected
Nick: John Torchio- A monster pick-six and a sack from a safety couldn’t have been a better start.
Graham Mertz-See above.
JJ: Since Nick already said Torchio I’ll go with Nick Herbig- who had a big day flying around the field and causing havoc in the backfield. He looked like a leader for the defense, which is big given some of the senior experience the unit lost. And then because Nick said Mertz for his offensive game ball I’ll go Braelon Allen. Almost 150 yards with two scores on just 14 carries was a great day on a workload that didn’t exactly strain him much.
Looking ahead, what are you going to be keeping an eye on this week as the Badger's focus shifts to Washington State?
Tyler: Has to be injuries to right tackle Riley Mahlman and safety Hunter Wholer. Those two being out could really hurt, especially Wohler who would be huge against Washington State’s offense.
Nick: The injuries to Riley Mahlmen and Hunter Wohler. Both left and never returned so I’ll be interested to see if we learn anything further about them.
JJ: Who replaces Hunter Wohler, who if I’m not mistaken was ruled out for WSU, in the secondary? Because as we’ve discussed above, the Badger secondary had some cracks against Illinois State, and Washington State likes to throw the ball a lot.