The Wisconsin Badgers beat the Illinois State Redbirds 38-0 to open their 2022 campaign, Graham Mertz and the offense rallied from a sluggish start. Here are the offensive results from Saturday’s game.
Quarterback Graham Mertz had an efficient outing, completing 14/16 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions.
Mertz ended the streak with a simple look under offensive coordinator Bobby Engram, distributing the ball to multiple options and seeing seven players take action on 14 receiving ends in the game.
However, Mertz was fairly conservative, working in the short and intermediate range rather than testing the waters with deep routes, even though the receivers won good matchups on the outside.
Mertz also occasionally keeps his head down and runs from the pocket, extending the play rather than keeping his eyes on the ground, limiting the damage on those occasions.
Mertz showed his smarts with a shot to Kemere Dijk, moving overstretched defenders into midfield before hitting a corner kick for the score.
But, Mertz also misses some simple readings. While that’s not a current issue, given the strength of Wisconsin’s early opponents, it will be difficult to get to the end of the reading while facing pressure.
Still, Mertz’s efficient play and execution earned him a B+ on his performance.
Running Backs: A
True sophomore Brelon Allen was the star of the season as he rushed 14 times for 148 yards and two scores, including a 96-yard touchdown run.
While Allen averaged a paltry 4.0 yards on his remaining 13 attempts, his ability to outrun tacklers, get downfield quickly and use power was on display in Week 1.
Chase Melucci rushed for 48 yards on 10 attempts in his first game back from injury.
While Melucci doesn’t have breakout qualities, the senior can consistently move the chains on short runs to keep the game moving.
Third stringer Isaac Gurendo saw his first action since the injury, rushing twice for three yards on the day, adding a nice 33-yard kickoff return.
Running backs were the bread and butter of the Badgers offense on Saturday, as the entire team rushed 37 times for 221 yards in a 38-0 win.
Wide receiver: B+
Junior Chimere DK led the team with 106 receiving yards and hauled in a 74-yard screen pass that almost made it into the end zone.
Dick’s had a slow start, but due to a lack of opportunities as opposed to performance issues. However, the receiver had two catches for 90 yards on the same drive, including a 16-yard touchdown on a corner post. Dick made an impact in several ways, recording a critical block on Braylon Allen’s 96-yard dunk.
Marcus Allen was the most targeted receiver for the Badgers, catching three of five targets for 34 yards. Quarterback Graham Mertz appears to trust Allen, despite an early drop, usually looking to the redshirt freshman.
Skyler Bell, Wisconsin’s other starter along with Kymre Dyck, had a quiet night, catching two passes for 21 yards. Bell ran some deep routes but was only targeting screen opportunities, which he worked on one play after the catch.
Cornerback Dean Engram was held Saturday and didn’t have much success in the return game, totaling negative yardage on two punt returns.
Overall, the receivers played well, but a lack of volume and drops in the passing game made the grade a B+ for the team.
Narrow ends: B
Two tight ends were featured on Saturday, Hayden Rucci caught two passes for 27 yards, while Clay Cundiff caught two passes for 23 yards.
Rucci has been a pleasant surprise in the receiving game, showing his potential as a versatile, run-blocking tight end.
Cundiff and Jack Eisenbach were seen as the favorites for two deep rotations, but the latter lost to a physical tight end, the former took over as the top player on the depth chart.
Neither player dropped a pass, so it was a relatively clean performance from the tight end, but the lack of significant volume limited their impact on Saturday’s game, earning them a B grade.
Offensive Line: B-
The left side of the offensive line looks set with Jack Nelson, Tyler Beach and Joe Tippman. However, the right wing unit remains questionable, especially with Riley Mahlman’s lower leg injury.
Brelon Allen averaged just 4.0 yards on the other 13 rushes, and while his performance on Monday was inconsistent with determination, the offensive line needs some improvement.
They’ve had their moments, especially with Braylon Allen’s 96-yard touchdown run and Chimere Dike’s 74-yard reception, but consistency is key.
Graham Mertz was also sacked twice, while backup Miles Burkett immediately hit Logan Brown on the edge after a right tackle.
After the game, head coach Paul Chryst praised Brown’s presence and acknowledged that the Badgers will be able to rely on a variety of offensive linemen this season.
“You’ll appreciate it being ready to roll,” Crist said. Everyone knows we need more men.
Brown made a nice run block on Chase Melucci’s three-yard run for the first time but had a scramble in pass protection. If Brown continues his inconsistent performance, Wisconsin will look for ways to keep Graham Mertz on the right side. From a clean pocket.