The Wisconsin Badgers began the post-Paul Chryst era in Evanston, Illinois as they dismantled the Northwestern Wildcats 42-7. Credit goes to interim head coach Jim Leonhard for getting the University of Wisconsin Football focused, and leaving the emotion of Chryst’s firing behind.
A Saturday trip to the suburbs of Chicago was timely. While Northwestern is 1-0 in the Big Ten West, the Badger win will move them to 1-1 in conference play, still with an opportunity to get it right with better play against the conference. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Graham Mertz Looked The Part—finally
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz played his best and most efficient game of the season, outside of clearly inferior opponents like Illinois State and New Mexico State. His stat line was clean and impressive with 298 passing yards on 29 attempts, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions. One significant change was offensive coordinator Bobby Engram on the field with Mertz versus being sequestered in the Badger press box. This game should serve as a confidence builder for the Wisconsin quarterback, which could pay dividends as they make their way through the remaining Big Ten season.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 8, 2022
Badgers Did What They Do Best—Rush The Football
Braelon Allen helped Wisconsin get back to the bread and butter part of their playbook: running the football. For his part, Allen would carry the ball 23 times for 135 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. While he did not find the end zone on the ground, he did through the air, throwing one pass on one attempt for 23 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers have always been a run-oriented team, especially under Paul Chryst. With Leonhard letting Wisconsin football be Wisconsin football, times could get better for a team re-engaging with its identity.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 8, 2022
Leonhard Emerges As A Good Bet For Head Coach
It’s one game, but don’t discount the importance of beating what will end up an also-ran in the Big Ten conference. A close game would not assuage the anxiety of the Badger faithful and a loss, close or not, would have been devastating. Jim Leonhard was aggressive out of the gate, throwing the football with good results. Mertz went five for five for 62 yards and a touchdown on first-down passes before halftime. Engram, who was on the sidelines with Leonhard, was able to establish the play-action early. Defensively, Wisconsin would have only one sack, but did force a fumble and two interceptions.