EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 08: Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates a touchdown pass to Chimere Dike #13 (not pictured) against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half at Ryan Field on October 08, 2022 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Report Card: Wisconsin Football Week 6 Win over Northwestern

Wisconsin Football got back on track this past Saturday, defeating the Northwestern Wildcats 42-7.

A win like this is huge, considering the week that was.  Interim coach Jim Leonhard couldn’t have wished for a better start to his head coaching career.

The Badgers played a complete game and looked like they were inspired.  By all accounts, keeping emotions intact while playing a good game was the goal for Leonhard and the team, and that’s exactly what happened.  This was all done against a fellow Big Ten opponent nonetheless, so even better.

The win leaves the Badger football team with a record of 1-2 in conference play, 3-3 overall.  A record good enough for fifth in the Big Ten West standings.

Offense: A-

Unlike last week, the offense took a good portion of the first quarter to get rolling.  But once rolling, the Badgers looked like the team the fanbase was looking for.

The entire offensive unit was great, but this game really centered around quarterback Graham Mertz and the passing game.  Mertz would lead a nine play, 98-yard drive to kick off the scoring with just over two minutes left in the first quarter and wouldn’t look back.  Mertz would finish his stellar day completing 20 of 29 passes for 299 yards, five (!) touchdowns and a QBR of 97.1.

Wisconsin’s passing game led to a stellar day by the receiving core.  Eight different Badgers would record a catch.  Chimere Dike led all receivers, however, with an awesome 10 catch, 185-yard day.  This translated into three touchdowns as well.

The backfield would even get into the passing game mix.  Running back Braelon Allen would find fellow running back Chez Mellusi for a 23-yard passing touchdown just before the two-minute warning in the first half.

The running backs were also great at what they’re in there to do; run the football.  Wisconsin football as a team would finish the day with 38 attempts for 193 yards.  Good enough for 5.1 yards per carry.

Getting back to normalcy, this stat line was led by Braelon Allen.  The young running back would run the ball 23 times for 135 yards.  This was good enough for a 5.9 yard per carry average.

The team also corrected the horrible play from last week in the turnover game.  None of the passers would throw a pick in this one, and none of the runners would put the ball on the ground.  The turnover battle is a great way to right any ship, and the Badgers did just that.

The only knock was the offense not being able to get the ball into the end zone via the running game.  This is the bread and butter for Wisconsin football, so to not see them hit pay dirt with the backfield was a little disappointing.  But we’re just nitpicking here, the overall was a huge success.

Defense: A-

There was talk all week about how the defensive play calling would be handled with Jim Leonhard being promoted to the interim head coach.  Leonhard answered that later in the week, declaring he would still be handling those duties.  He did note, however, that a plan was in place in case those duties needed to be passed off.  Safe to say, I don’t think they need to be at this point.

The team played very well all around.  Wisconsin faced three different quarterbacks today, and none of them looked like they could handle the defense being thrown at them.  Quarterback Ryan Hilinski was the most notable, finishing the day with a QBR of 51.2.  The team would accumulate 263 passing yards on the day.

Northwestern’s biggest offensive weapon this season has been running back Evan Hull.  He was bottled up in the running game, along with the rest of the backfield.  The Wildcats would total only 79 rushing yards, with a 2.9 yards per carry average to go along with that.

Wisconsin football was able to force three turnovers on the day as well.  Hilinski would throw two interceptions, and Brendan Sullivan would lose one on the ground.

This would bring the turnover margin to 3-0, in favor of Bucky.  What a way to flip the script from last week.

Coaching: A

This game was all about Jim Leonhard, and rightfully so.  Leonhard was head coaching for the first time, while maintaining defensive play calling duties.  Given the final score, I’d say that was a success.

Leonhard was a big-time winner on the field today.  The offense looked like the Badgers the fans have come to love, with even more action in the passing game.  The players were motivated, and it showed.

Creativity came out in this one as well, which is always fun to see.  The touchdown pass by Allen is just another weapon opposing defenses will now have to plan for, seeing as Leonhard isn’t afraid to mix it up.

The defense was flying all around the ball.  Leonhard kept up the standard he has set with this unit.

The biggest success, however, came from within the locker room.  Stories were pushed all last week on how the team will handle their emotions after the change in head coaching.  Safe to say, Leonhard was the man for that job as well.

Overall: A-

Critics can nitpick the Wisconsin Badgers in a few areas.  One that stands out is the missed field goal, which is unfortunate but not uncommon in the college game.  Three punts are also never fun to endure.

What people can’t take away from this team, however, is how important this win is after the emotional week.  The team kept those in check and put out a stellar product in all facets of the game.

This goes for the players, and the coaching staff alike.

What a start for the Jim Leonhard era, and hopefully, this is a sign of what’s to come.

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