#14 WISCONSIN 45, ILLINOIS 7 ▪ FRIDAY, OCT. 23, 2020 ▪ CAMP RANDALL STADIUM ▪ MADISON, WIS.
Today’s game captain: senior RB Garrett Groshek
Friday’s game marked the latest start to a Wisconsin football season since the Badgers opened the 1918 season — which was delayed due to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20 — on Oct. 26.
Wisconsin won its home opener for the 25th consecutive season, a run that dates back to 1996. Only Florida (31) owns a longer active streak among FBS teams.
The Badgers claimed a win in their season-opening contest for the 5th straight year.
The win marked Wisconsin’s first season-opening victory over a Big Ten opponent since a 21-14 triumph over No. 1-ranked Michigan on Sept. 12, 1981 (which also was UW’s last opener vs. a conference opponent at Camp Randall).
UW claimed its 8th straight victory over Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium, dating to 2004.
Overall, Wisconsin has won 10 of its last 11 (and 14 of its last 16) meetings with the Illini.
Paul Chryst improved to 53-16 (.768) in his sixth season as Wisconsin’s head coach, passing Milt Bruhn (1956-66) for 4th on UW’s all-time wins list:
WINS AS WISCONSIN COACH, ALL-TIME
Coach (Years) Wins
- Barry Alvarez (1990-2005)* 119
- Bret Bielema (2006-12) 68
- Phil King (1896-1902, ’05) 65
- Paul Chryst (2015-present) 53
- Milt Bruhn (1956-66) 52
* Also served as coach in 2 bowl games (2012, 2014)
Under Chryst, Wisconsin is:
35-10 (.778) in Big Ten Conference play
26-5 (.839) vs. the Big Ten West Division
5-1 (.833) in season openers
5-1 (.833) vs. Illinois
Wisconsin won its 8th consecutive home game, dating to last season.
UW tallied its most points in a Big Ten opener since beating Nebraska 48-17 in 2011.
The Badgers held Illinois to just 218 yards and just 8 first downs. Those numbers are the fewest by a UW Big Ten opponent since Michigan State totaled just 149 and 7 first downs against UW last season.
Wisconsin dominated the time of possession by a margin of 43:28 to 16:32. That’s UW’s most lopsided total since owning a 44:31 to 15:29 advantage over Minnesota in 2004.
The Badgers finished a perfect 6-for-6 in red zone opportunities, scoring 5 touchdowns and 1 field goal.
Redshirt freshman QB Graham Mertz became the first Wisconsin freshman to start a season opener at quarterback since 1978, going 20-for-21 for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Mertz’s 5 touchdowns tied the highest single-game total in UW history, matching the school record set by Darrell Bevell vs. Nevada in 1993 and Jim Sorgi vs. Michigan State in 2003.
Mertz set the Wisconsin completion percentage record with a mark of .952, going 20-for-21 overall. He surpassed Alex Hornibrook’s mark of .947 (18-19) vs. BYU on Sept. 16, 2017.
Mertz is the third FBS player over the last 25 seasons to post at least 5 TD passes and complete at least 95% of his passes, joining Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel (vs. Central Florida in 2015) and USC’s Matt Barkley (vs. Colorado in 2012).
Mertz tallied the most TD passes (5) and best completion percentage (95.2%) by a Badgers QB in his starting debut. He also posted the second-most completions (20) and third-most yards in a first start.
Mertz finished with a pass efficiency rating of 277.1, the third-highest mark in Badger history behind John Stocco (296.7 vs. Indiana in 2006) and Alex Hornibrook (277.4 vs BYU in 2017) – minimum 15 pass attempts.
Mertz’s rating also trails only Russell Wilson (292 vs. UNLV in 2011) for a Badger in his starting debut.
Mertz completed his first 17 passes, matching the Badgers’ single-game school record for consecutive completions. His 17 straight completions also ranks as the third-longest streak in a conference game in Big Ten history.
CONSECUTIVE COMPLETIONS, SINGLE GAME
Cmp. Player Opponent (Date)
17 Tanner McEvoy Western Ill. (9/6/2014)
17 Graham Mertz Illinois (10/23/2020)
16 Russell Wilson at Minnesota (11/12/2011)
15 Alex Hornibrook at BYU (9/16/2017)
14 Darrell Bevell Northwestern (10/9/1993)
14 Darrell Bevell SMU (9/23/1995)
Dating to last season, when he completed his final 9 attempts, Mertz had a streak of 26 straight completions.
Mertz threw for 248 yards, the third-highest single-game total by a Wisconsin freshman, trailing Darrell Bevell (274 vs. Northwestern in 1992) and Joel Stave (254 vs. Illinois in 2012).
Junior TE Jake Ferguson caught a career high 7 catches for 72 yards and hauled in a career-best 3 touchdowns.
Ferguson is just the 9th player in UW history to catch at least 3 TDs in one game and the third Badger tight end in the last 50 years, joining Owen Daniels (2005) and Garrett Graham (2009).
Senior WR Danny Davis caught 2 passes for 72 yards, including a 53-yard TD pass in the second quarter, his 12th career touchdown.
Senior RB Garrett Groshek finished with a career-high 99 yards from scrimmage, rushing for a team-best 70 yards and catching 4 passes for 29 yards.
Senior FB Mason Stokke pulled in the first touchdown reception of his career on a 10-yard pass from Mertz to open the scoring for the Badgers in the first quarter
Junior FB John Chenal scored his second-career touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Senior LB Isaiahh Loudermilk racked up the 7th sack of his career.
Freshman OLB Nick Herbig recorded the first sack of his career in his collegiate debut.
Sophomore LB C.J. Goetz posted his first-career sack and made a career-high 3 tackles.
Freshman S Titus Toler tallied his first-career interception, picking off Isaiah Williams in the fourth quarter.
Junior P Andy Vujnovich punted 4 times for 184 yards (46.0 avg.) in his Wisconsin debut, including 60-yarder on his first attempt as a Badger.
Junior K Collin Larsh connected on a 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and all 6 of his extra points. Larsh is now 13-for-19 on FGs in his career.
Wisconsin Football Head Coach Paul Chryst
Post-Game Quotes – Oct. 23, 2020
Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7
OPENING STATEMENT: It was good to get the season started obviously. Appreciate all the work that went into it by everyone: the players, the coaches, administrators, everyone that allowed us, doctors, to give us a chance to play.
Certainly was different tonight with no fans in the stands. That’s obviously one of the best things we’ve got going here at Camp Randall. It was fun to play. I thought the team did a great job of getting ready. I loved their energy throughout the game. Obviously a number of guys did some good things that gave us a chance to win.
Graham (Mertz) was really good in his first start. It was fun having Jon Dietzen back. Defensively I thought we played really well. I thought it was a good plan. Cut guys loose. It was good to get going. It was a good night.
- Was the plan with Graham (Mertz) initially to ease him in with some shorter throws? In general, what stood out of to you about his performance in his first start?
PAUL CHRYST: I thought he had good poise. I thought he saw the field well. You never know quite how someone’s going to react in their first start. I thought he was himself. And that you appreciate. I thought there was a good plan for him by the offensive coaches. He was able to execute it.
- How surreal was the atmosphere, to be playing with no fans? It’s not something you can really expect, but how was it out there?
PAUL CHRYST: Obviously it was really different. But I think the game itself, talking to the players, it felt like a game as well, right? No doubt it was different, but like I said, I thought the guys handled it well.
There was good energy on the sideline, good energy exchanged, different units coming in. I think this team enjoyed the opportunity to play, enjoyed seeing each other and get their chances to play. When guys made plays, they celebrated it.
No doubt, it was different, but nonetheless it was fun.
- About a couple sequences. Getting the turnover against Illinois early to get the short field, then the way your offense responded after the defensive touchdown by Illinois. Address the importance of those two sequences.
PAUL CHRYST: Yeah, I thought those were big, right? Have a ton of respect for what Illinois has done, especially defensively, there takeaways. Kind of talked about that, that if we can win the takeaway, turnover battle, that was one of the games within the game. To get that one and get it early, to have the field position we had …
Then for the offense to finish it, I thought it was a heck of a catch by Mason (Stokke). That in itself was a big sequence, right? Obviously getting the takeaway, then capitalizing on it.
The fumble by Ferg (Jake Ferguson) and the return by them, you’ve got a chance to answer them, right? It’s how you respond. I thought they responded a number of different ways.
I thought defensively we had a couple times where they were getting a drive going, yet I thought we responded and had some key fourth-down stops. That’s a big part of it. I think if we can build on that and grow from those things, adversity is going to come your way, but it’s how you respond that matters most. I was proud of the way that different situations, this group tonight, responded.
- The last sequence, (Jake) Ferguson had the fumble, came back with the nice catch and the touchdown on the following drive. How do you think he responded to that adversity?
PAUL CHRYST: I thought he did respond. I thought that was a nice play by Graham (Mertz) and Jake (Ferguson). I thought there was good timing to it. Where I was at on the field at the time, obviously knew the call, where it should be going. I thought there was anticipation and some trust by Graham. Gave him a nice play.
Ferg responded. I thought he did some things in the run game. I talked earlier about the group being able to respond. I think you bring up a really important point: the individual has to respond.
Same thing happened to Dean Engram, he got called for holding on a punt return. He had made a couple plays on special teams later. That’s the response you’re looking for, right, and appreciate as a coach.
- Rushing-wise, wasn’t as efficient as you have been in the past. What was working, not working, in the rushing game?
PAUL CHRYST: Yeah, we knew it was going to be a tough, tough defense to run the ball against. Certainly we’re trying to try on some things. We’ll certainly go back, look at the film. A few times it felt like we were off on a couple things. We had a couple jet sweeps that could have been big plays for us. First one, we kind of overran it. Second, … would have been big. Feet went out underneath him. You’re going to look back at it and certainly knew they weren’t going to just give you those yards, right?
I don’t know that we did everything in our power. You got to execute, right? I think it was one guy here maybe, one guy there. I think there will be a lot of good learning from it.
It’s a good defense. I thought we kind of got into it. The run game was big. We got into some situations, too. We had a couple first downs. Two of the sacks were on first downs. We got a sprint-out, should be a pretty safe play, we take a sack there. Right around midfield, we take a sack. That puts a lot of strain on a lot of things.
Obviously there’s areas we did really well. We got to build on that. There’s got to be some things we got to clean up.
I do know watching some of the action that went up front, we had some guys play really well. There will be stuff we can build on certainly, but areas we got to improve, no doubt.
- How do you think Illinois played you guys from a coverage perspective? Do you feel they challenged your guys to throw the ball a little bit, leaving the corners on an island at some points?
PAUL CHRYST: They were fairly consistent to kind of what we thought they’d be. I think they do a great job. You look at it, and they tackle well. I don’t know how many missed tackles they had. I do know there’s a couple times, back was one-on-one with the safety, they did a good job. I think there’s some things we can look at. How do we get better in that area?
I thought they did a good job. Every defense is going to challenge you. It’s what they did. I thought we were able to take advantage of some of the things. A couple of those touchdowns in the goal line, commit to that, we’re able to really do a nice job of coming up with a couple things there. The touchdown to Danny (Davis) before the half was big.
That’s the game you play, right? There’s the game within the game. Certainly they had their number of plays that were good. We found enough plays that we were able to be good on.
- What did Garrett Groshek give you tonight and what you expect from him the rest of the year?
PAUL CHRYST: Yeah, I thought Grosh (Garrett Groshek), best thing, who we want him to be, right? Made some plays. I think good patience in the running game. He was physical. I thought he did some good stuff obviously in the third downs, things that you don’t always see in a stat sheet. That is kind of his game, right?
He’s obviously a big part of this not just offense but team. I thought it was a good start for him. Shoot, he’s on our punt team. He does a ton of stuff for us. I thought Grosh got off to a good start.
Every one of us will find things we can do to get better and need to get better at. But you’re also grateful tonight for all the efforts that went into earning this victory. You appreciate that tonight and get moving forward tomorrow.