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)

Wisconsin Football: Studs and Duds vs. Northwestern

Wisconsin Football: Studs and Duds vs. Northwestern

The Wisconsin Badgers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) blew out the Northwestern Wildcats (1-5, 1-2 Big Ten) by a score of 42-7 on Saturday afternoon.

In the first game of the Jim Leonhard era, the Badgers put together one of the most complete performances of the season.

Here are the studs and duds from the exciting win.


Studs:

The Graham Mertz to Chimere Dike connection

Saturday’s game was a masterclass in passing. Graham Mertz put together an incredible passing performance, posting a stat line of 20 completions for 299 yards and five touchdowns. The Kansas native threw for three touchdowns in the first half, the most by a Badger quarterback since Russell Wilson in 2014. Furthermore, Mertz is now the first quarterback in Wisconsin history with multiple five-touchdown games.

Mertz was incredible today, and a large part of his success was the ability to find Chimere Dike.

Dike was nearly automatic in the receiving game on Saturday. The junior wide receiver hauled in ten catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Dike was crucial in extending drives as he caught four third-down passes from Mertz. Additionally, the six-foot-one receiver’s 185 yards are the most by a Badgers wide receiver since 2014.

The connection between Mertz and Dike was simply unstoppable today, and they deserve to be labeled as studs following the incredible performance.

The Wisconsin Badgers’ defense

Wisconsin’s defense put up one of their best performances of the season on Saturday afternoon. One of the groups that outperformed expectations was the Badgers’ pass rush.

There have been concerns about the Badgers’ pass rush, but those worries should fade after an impressive game. While the Badgers only registered one sack, they caused plenty of panic in the backfield. The pass rush forced Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski to make mistakes as he threw two interceptions on Saturday afternoon, both snatched by Kamo’i Latu.

Latu, a Utah transfer, has been impressive in the secondary. After his two interceptions, the Badgers’ defense has now registered ten interceptions on the season, the most in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin’s defense held firm against a team that likes to air the ball out. The secondary was strong, and the pass rush caused a stir. This type of performance is what we have been expecting from the Badgers. Now, it’s a matter of continuing this level of play throughout the rest of the season.

Jim Leonhard

Interim head coach Jim Leonhard registered his first win on Saturday and a convincing one at that.

Heading into the matchup, there was plenty of discussion around how the Badgers would look after the staff shakeup that saw Paul Chryst being fired last Sunday. Following the victory, it seems that Leonhard did an excellent job of preparing his team.

Although Leonhard was the head coach, he was still in charge of running the defense. Being a leader for the team and running the defense is no easy task, but coach Leonhard handled it with grace. The Badgers came to play and put together an incredible performance in the first game of the Leonhard era.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin continues to play at a high level against some tougher competition. But let’s not look too far into the future just yet. Instead, let’s enjoy Leonhard’s first win as head coach.


Dud(s):

The Wisconsin Badgers special teams

There was really nothing that went wrong for Wisconsin today, but if there had to be one dud, it would be the special teams.

Don’t get me wrong; the special teams unit overall played well enough. Isaac Guerendo and Dean Engram both had two returns for 24 and 20 yards, respectively.

The only gaff came from Nate Van Zelst as he missed a 35-yard field goal on the opening drive. Van Zelst missed wide left on his only field goal attempt, but hit all six of his extra point opportunities.

All in all, there was hardly anything to label as poor in this performance. Due to the miss on a relatively simple field goal and no spectacular returns, the special teams will end up as a dud this week.


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