Sep 21, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; A Wisconsin Badgers helmet sits on the sidelines during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Badgers PFF grades: Top 5 offensive/defensive players in week 1 vs. Illinois State

The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) kicked off its season opener at Camp Randall on Saturday night with a 38-0 smackdown of the visiting Illinois State Redbirds.

Behind a balanced and efficient offensive performance, the Badgers totaled 440 yards in Bobby Engram’s first game as offensive coordinator.

Even on a night where Jim Leonhard’s defense came out flat, they managed to pitch a shutout against the Redbirds.

It was a night that saw multiple school records broken. First, senior safety John Torchio scored the first touchdown of the season on a 100-yard pick-six late in the first quarter.

Then, Braelon Allen showed why he’s one of the best running backs in the country, ripping off a 96-yard touchdown run, the longest in school history.

Overall, it was a highly encouraging performance from both sides of the ball, giving Wisconsin momentum to build on heading into week two against the Washington State Cougars.

Here’s a look at the top five highest-graded offensive/defensive players from Wisconsin’s 38-0 victory over Illinois State, according to Pro Football Focus.


Top 5 offense

  • OT Nolan Rucci: 91.1 – Elite 

  • TE Hayden Rucci: 88.4 – Elite 

  • WR Chimere Dike: 82.6 – High Quality 

  • OT Jack Nelson: 81.6 – High Quality 

  • QB Graham Mertz: 81.4 – High Quality 


Top 5 defense

  • S Preston Zachman: 91.0 – Elite

  • NT Keeanu Benton: 86.8 – Elite

  • S Kamo’i Latu: 83.2 – High Quality

  • ILB Maema Njongmeta: 82.5 – High Quality

  • OLB Nick Herbig: 78.2 – High Quality


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

Join the Badger Notes watch party and stream Wisconsin games for FREE by clicking this link.

*Chat about this article over at Badgers After Dark

*Subscribe and listen to the BadgerNotes.com podcast (as seen on Apple, Google, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts).

Wisconsin offensive lineman Jack Nelson (79) proceeds pass protection during the second quarter in the Badgers’ 24-0 win over Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Mjs Uwgrid10 10 Jpg Uwgrid10

LT Jack Nelson practicing and will start the season opener vs. Illinois State

After undergoing a procedure to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, Wisconsin football will have their starting left tackle back for the season opener.

According to a report from Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin’s starting left tackle Jack Nelson, who recently had a procedure to repair a torn ligament, has returned to practice and is good to go for the season opener.

Coach Bostad shifted Nelson, last season’s starting right guard, out to left tackle during the spring, where he quickly became a stalwart of UW’s re-tooled offensive line.

Per 247Sports, the former four-star recruit was the No. 104 overall prospect in the 2020 class, the No. 10 offensive tackle in the country, and the No. 2 player in Wisconsin.

Nelson, a Wisconsin native, was a 13-game starter for Wisconsin in 2021, allowing 13 pressures and two sacks in 769 total snaps as a redshirt freshman. He received honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Per PFF, the 6-foot-7, 311-pound lineman finished last season with an overall grade of (69.4). His grade took a hit because of his six penalties, which was the most for any player on the Badgers’ offensive line.

His return for the opener is essential for several reasons. First, Nelson is a tone-setter and an athletic mauler who plays Wisconsin football the way it’s intended – with tenacity. Second, his availability allows everyone to return to their usual spots, specifically Riley Mahlman – who returns to right tackle where he’ll start in week one.


Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Dillon Graff on Twitter @DillonGraff.

*Chat about this article over at Badgers After Dark

*Subscribe and listen to the Badger Notes Podcast (as seen on Apple, Google, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts).