LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on during a time out against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium on December 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Badgers defeated the Sun Devils 20-13. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: What to watch for

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: What to watch for

The Wisconsin Badgers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) will head back to Madison to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) on Saturday.

The Badgers head into the matchup coming off of an embarrassing loss in Columbus to the Ohio State Buckeyes, where they lost 52-21. Conversely, the Fighting Illini are coming off a 31-0 victory against the Chattanooga Mocs. Both teams are looking to notch their first win in conference play on Saturday.

Here are some items to watch for in Saturday’s contest:

How will Graham Mertz respond following a poor performance in week four?

Last weekend, the Badgers fell to Ohio State in a blowout. Wisconsin looked out of sorts in all three phases and was outclassed by the Buckeye’s talented team and coaching staff. Heading into Saturday, an essential item to watch will be how Graham Mertz responds.

The Badgers quarterback struggled in week four’s matchup after throwing an interception on his first pass attempt of the game. It seemed like the third-year starter lost his confidence after that interception, and things quickly went off the rails for Wisconsin.

Despite the poor stat line, Mertz spread the ball well to his receivers, which he has excelled at all season long. All in all, Mertz put together a stat line of 94 yards, one touchdown, and an interception, a stat line that seemed out of the ordinary after the impressive year he has had.

Mertz has looked like the best version of himself this season, putting together a stat line of 791 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. If the third-year starter is looking to return to his previous level of play, he will need to spread the ball to multiple receivers again and do so with confidence.

The Kansas native will be a key player to watch in this weekend’s showdown as he looks to regain his confidence and continue to play at the level he was before the loss.

Will Jim Leonhard and the Badgers’ defense bounce back?

In week four, the Badger’s defense was flat-out embarrassed by Ohio State’s explosive offense. It seemed that CJ Stroud and company got everything they wanted, and there was no stopping the passing attack.

Against the Buckeyes, the secondary was torn apart. Stroud posted a remarkable stat line of 281 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. Heading into the matchup against Illinois, the secondary will be one of the key groups to watch.

The Fighting Illini are averaging 245 passing yards per game this season. Tommy DeVito has excelled through the air this year, putting up a total of 954 passing yards. While DeVito is not on the same level as Stroud, the Syracuse transfer has shown plenty of promise as the Fighting Illini’s QB1. The Badgers’ secondary will need to bounce back this week, and with Alexander Smith once again listed as out with injury, that may be tougher than anticipated.

Another group on defense to keep an eye on is the Badgers’ pass rush. While players such as Keeanu Benton and Nick Herbig have put up solid performances on the edge, the production has been less than expected. The Badgers will need to get into the backfield early and often to force DeVito to make mistakes.

Wisconsin’s defense is a very talented group, and how they respond after a poor performance will be a key item to watch this weekend.

Who will step up in the receiving game with Clay Cundiff out?

Wisconsin suffered a massive blow in week four when Clay Cundiff sustained an injury. The junior tight end suffered a significant leg injury, and there has been no update on his status yet.

Cundiff set career highs in week two against Washington State and showed promise in his pass-catching abilities. With Cundiff now out with injury, who will step up?

It’s no secret that Mertz incorporates his tight ends often in his passing game. He did it with Jake Ferguson, and it was the same story once Cundiff took over.

The Badgers have plenty of talent at the tight end position with Hayden Rucci and Jake Eschenbach. However, at this time, it’s unclear who will get the start against Illinois.

Rucci has appeared in two games for the Badgers this season. The redshirt junior has a stat line of four receptions for 47 yards this season.

Eschenbach, a redshirt senior, has also appeared in two games this season. The 6-foot-6 tight end has hauled in two catches for 33 yards this season.

Although both players have seen limited reps this season, one must step up and give their quarterback a great option in the receiving game. Whoever steps in to replace Cundiff will have big shoes to fill, and they will be a key player to watch in this weekend’s game.

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CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Graham Mertz #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks to take the snap against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on December 30, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 3 Ohio State: What to watch for

Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 3 Ohio State: What to watch for

Madison, Wis. – The Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) will hit the road to take on the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (3-0) on Saturday, September 24th, at Ohio Stadium.

Following a 66-7 win against the New Mexico State Aggies, the Badgers will look to take down a talented Buckeyes team to kick off conference play.

Here are some items worth watching for in week 4:


Will the Badgers continue their strong play against a formidable opponent?

In Wisconsin’s week three matchup against New Mexico State, the Badgers had a complete game in all three phases. Although it was against a far inferior opponent, Wisconsin kept its foot on the gas through all four quarters.

Heading into week four, the Badgers face an incredible challenge.
Ohio State has put together some fantastic performances. While the competition wasn’t as tough as it gets, the Buckeyes have found the answers on both sides of the ball.

The Ohio State offense comes into Saturday’s matchup averaging 565.3 yards per game, the most in all of college football. Conversely, the Buckeye’s defense has allowed an average of 14.3 points per game.

The Badgers face a tall order in taking on this dynamic offense. UW will need to lean on its stars like Keeanu Benton, Nick Herbig, and Maema Njongmeta to keep themselves in the game.

On the flip side, the Badger’s offense will need another excellent performance from their quarterback Graham Mertz. The redshirt junior is coming off of an impressive game where he completed 12 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. If the Badgers hope to take down a tough Ohio State team, they will need another strong showing from their QB1.

One question remains, will the Badgers continue with the same level of play against a more challenging opponent in Ohio State?


How will the Badger’s defense slow down CJ Stroud?

Buckeye’s quarterback CJ Stroud has been nothing short of spectacular to begin the season. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound quarterback boasts a remarkable stat line of 941 yards, 11 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Furthermore, the junior boasts a QB rating of 94.6, the third-highest rating in the nation.

The Badger’s defense has been sound all season long, and the defense has allowed just eight points per game to begin the season. However, they have not faced a quarterback like Stroud.

The secondary will be key in this game. Cornerbacks Jay Shaw and Alexander Smith may have their work cut out for them going against Ohio State’s strong receiving core. The secondary will be responsible for playing physically and forcing Stroud to make mistakes through the air.

Another group that must contribute is the Badger’s talented pass rushers, and one player to keep an eye on will be Nick Herbig. The junior linebacker is the Badger’s current sack leader with four sacks. Herbig has wreaked havoc on offensive lines in the past three weeks, and he will need to once again in week four.

It remains to be seen how the Badgers will find the answers to slow down Stroud, but it will be a key item to watch in Saturday’s matchup.


Will Isaac Guerendo be more involved?

The Badgers are known for producing talented running backs. Their running back room includes the two-headed monster of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi, but it seems that Isaac Guerendo has played third fiddle in the rotation.

Guerendo, a senior out of Indiana, has had a solid season despite a smaller workload. The 6-foot, 223-pound running back boasts a stat line of 17 carries for 91 yards and three touchdowns.

Against New Mexico State, Guerendo logged 12 carries for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Although it was against an inferior opponent, the Indiana native showed plenty of promise.

The sample size has been relatively small, but Guerendo has shown that he is a dynamic back. The senior shows promise as a power runner while also having the speed to break out on the outside.

The Badgers have one of the deepest running back rooms in the nation, and getting Guerendo more involved could lead to success.

While he may not get a lot of carries out of the backfield, his speed could be useful on jet sweeps or screen passes to the outside.

It remains to be seen if Guerendo will be more involved, but after an impressive game against New Mexico State, we may see a higher workload from the senior running back.

While watching Wisconsin’s offense this weekend, keep an eye out for Guerendo and if he gets more touches.


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PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 06 : Head coach Paul Chryst of the Wisconsin Badgers talks with quarterback Graham Mertz (5) during a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at SHI Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Wisconsin defeated Rutgers 52-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

No. 19 Wisconsin vs. Washington State: What to watch for

No. 19 Wisconsin vs. Washington State: What to watch for

Madison, Wis. – The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers will play host to the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, September 10, at Camp Randall Stadium.

Following a convincing 38-0 victory over the Illinois State Redbirds, the Badgers will look to keep the momentum going and remain undefeated in non-conference play.

Here are some items worth watching in week two.


How does Graham Mertz follow up an impressive week 1?

Sep 3, 2022; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) celebrates following a touchdown during the third quarter against the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Graham Mertz heads into Saturday’s showdown coming off an impressive showing in week one. Against Illinois State, the redshirt junior completed 14-of-16 pass attempts for 219 yards and a touchdown. Mertz showed poise in the pocket and evenly distributed the ball among his teammates.

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game, Mertz will undoubtedly be a player to watch. After sub-par performances the past two seasons, the Kansas native showed signs of improvement in the first game of the 2022 season.

Now, he’ll need to build on his strong outing and work towards becoming a more consistent QB. Also, look for receivers such as Chimere Dike and Markus Allen to build off their three-catch performances in week one.

It was a small sample size, but the third-year starter appeared to thrive under new Badgers offensive coordinator Bobby Engram’s system.

If you keep an eye on any single player this weekend, Mertz is an excellent place to start.


How does Wisconsin Badgers rushing attack look against a Power 5 school?

Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi looked sharp in week one. Now 18 years of age, Allen looked even more impressive than last season in Madison. The Wisconsin native put together an impressive stat line of 14 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns. The Badgers’ RB1 didn’t miss a beat in the first game.

Mellusi, who missed the final four games of the 2021 season due to a torn ACL, looked solid in his first game back. The Clemson transfer carried the ball 10 times for 48 yards in the season opener. Despite no longer being the number one option, Mellusi showed plenty of promise and will likely be given a heavy workload this season behind Allen.

Wisconsin is known for breeding star running backs, and with the one-two punch of Allen and Mellusi, the Badgers will have a strong backfield again this season.

For the Badgers to stay perfect through their first two games, they’ll need the running back room to do what they do best in week two.


Will the defense get off to a fast start?

MADISON, WISCONSIN – OCTOBER 02: Wisconsin defensive coach Jim Leonhard looks on in the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium on October 02, 2021 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Against Illinois State, the Badgers’ defense started a bit sluggish. While John Torchio’s pick-six was the spark that gave UW’s defense a boost of confidence, the slow start was a bit unexpected for one of the nation’s best. Jim Leonhard lost eight defensive starters from the Grit Factory, so Wisconsin is understandably still sorting things out.

The question is, can the defense come out with a sense of urgency in week two?

Players like Nick Herbig and Maema Njongmeta had impressive showings in week one. The linebackers combined for 12 tackles, three TFLs, and two sacks. Expect these players to be key contributors once again as they look to cause mayhem against Washington State.

Another question for the defense is who will step up after an injury to starting safety Hunter Wohler?

The free safety suffered a leg injury against Illinois State and won’t play on Saturday. Kamo’i Latu and Preston Zachman are the most likely candidates to help fill the void, but it’s currently unknown who will start.

Against Illinois State, Zachman registered two tackles and an interception, while Latu recorded one tackle and a pass deflection.

Both players showed promise and will undoubtedly be players to watch on Saturday.


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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


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Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) and the rest of the offensive unit listens to quarterback Graham Mertz (5) in the huddle during their game Saturday, November 20, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin beat Nebraska 35-28. Mjs Uwgrid21 24 Jpg Uwgrid21

Wisconsin Football: 3 Bold predictions for the 2022 season

We are closing in on the Wisconsin football season, so now feels like a good time to make some bold predictions for the Badgers in 2022. 

The long-anticipated return of Wisconsin football is nearly over, Badger fans. All offseason debate, training camp hype, and positional question marks will finally be answered when the UW returns to the field on September 3 against the Illinois State Redbirds at Camp Randall Stadium.

Last season, Wisconsin entered the year ranked No. 12 by the Associated Press but stumbled out of the gate and finished 9-4, failing to win the Big Ten West for the second consecutive season.

With the season kicking off later this week, Badger Notes goes out on a limb and offers three bold predictions for Wisconsin football in 2022.


1. Wisconsin has two 1,000-yard running backs.

The University of Wisconsin, better known as RBU, hasn’t had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season since Melvin Gordon and James White did it back in 2013.

However, Wisconsin football is in a relatively fortunate position; they essentially have two starting caliber running backs in Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi.

Allen will step into a workhorse role for the Badgers and build on his impressive freshman season. Mellusi, on the other hand, is also one of Wisconsin’s top offensive weapons and will garner his fair share of touches.

It’s been nearly a decade since a pair of Badgers running backs hit the 1,000-yard milestone in the same season; it’s also never happened at Wisconsin during the Paul Chryst era.

The only other UW RB pairing to achieve this feat was James White and John clay, who did it back in 2010. Had Montee Ball accumulated four more rushing yards, they would have had three 1,000-yard rushers that season.

Behind Wisconsin’s dominant run-blocking offensive line, I believe the tandem of Allen and Mellusi will become Wisconsin’s first 1,000-yard rushing duo since 2013.


2. Nick Herbig records more than 12.5 sacks. 

As a sophomore, Nick Herbig led the Big Ten in pash-rush win rate and registered 64 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four pass deflections, and two forced fumbles, receiving Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors.

After an offseason of training at the Bro-Barn, the Hawaii native has a chance to produce one of the most dominant seasons by a Wisconsin OLB in school history, cementing his name among the greats that came before him.

Standing at 6-foot-2, 228-pounds, Herbig is going to wreak havoc on the entire Big Ten in 2022; his blend of power and speed as a pass-rushing specialist is why I’m picking him to record more than 12.5 sacks, placing him in the top three single-season sack leaders in program history.


3. Graham Mertz throws 20 touchdown passes. 

If I had made this prediction for Graham Mertz two years ago, it wouldn’t have seemed like a bold prediction whatsoever. In 2022, the third-year starter enters the season with the bar of expectation seemingly on the floor after two below-average seasons as the QB1.

Despite the maddening inconsistencies, I still believe in Mertz’s arm talent and work ethic.

New offensive coordinator Bobby Engram has put in the time with Mertz to get the ball out quicker, mitigate risks, and play efficiently within the framework of the offense. If the coaching sticks, I’m picking the Kansas native to double last season’s passing touchdown total, which was only 10.


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