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Wisconsin throttles Illinois in season opener, 45-7

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The Illini lose their season opener for the first time since 2010.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Lightning doesn't strike the same place twice.

A year after upsetting Wisconsin for the program’s signature win, the Badgers got their revenge, dominating the Illini, 45-7, at Camp Randall in Madison on Friday night.

The Illini were back in action for the first time in 298 days and it showed.

The offense had a slow start in the game, and never found a rhythm. Brandon Peters was not very sharp through the air, in fact, most of the damage done by Peters was on the ground. Peters had more yards rushing than passing in the first half and finished with just 87 yards through the air and 75 yards on the ground, and a late-game interception.

The first, and only, score from the Illini of the season came in a typical way, a fumble return for a touchdown. As the second quarter was winding down, Tarique Barnes forced, recovered and returned a fumble for a score to tighten the game to 14-7.

However, the Illini failed to match their minimum three takeaway per game goal.

Defensively, the Illini were without Milo Eifler for the first half and lost Jake Hansen late in the first quarter. As a result, Wisconsin was able to continually gash the Illini, especially through the middle. The defense did force some punts in the second half, but the offense’s inability to get anything going left the defense on the field for nearly 75% of the game.

In Wisconsin’s first game without Jonathan Taylor, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, the run game struggled to get going. But it didn’t really matter.

Graham Mertz was great in his first career start. The redshirt freshman was 20-for-21 for 248 yards and five touchdowns — three of those to tight end Jake Ferguson. His first incompletion did not come until 6:02 left in the third quarter.

After Illinois narrowed the deficit to just seven points, the Badgers struck quick with a pair of touchdowns, the latter of them a 53-yard bomb to Danny Davis with less than a minute to go in the first half. That was the dagger.

Wisconsin added a pair of touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter to completely bury Illinois.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

  • Welcome Back- Mike Epstein fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, his first carry since last season’s season opener against Akron. The turnover set up the Badgers deep in Illinois territory. They’d take advantage of the mistake just a few plays later with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Graham Mertz to Mason Stokke.
  • Oh Captain- On fourth down late in the first, Wisconsin converted a 4th and 1 with a one yard run. On that same play, Jake Hansen left the game with an injury. Bad spot? You be the judge.
  • Lovie Ball -After not converting on a fourth down the Illini desperately needed a defensive play. A forced fumble led to a Tarique Barnes fumble return for a touchdown. The Illini’s first points of 2020.
  • Fourth Down Foe -Fourth down as a whole was terrible for Illinois. In Wisconsin’s attempt early it appeared the runner did not convert but the officials gave Wisconsin the spot. Later, Peters had a run where it appeared he did reach the line to gain but the officials did not give Illinois the spot. Then, a drive later, on fourth and one the Badgers bit on the hard count and the officials called a false start on Illinois instead.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Graham Mertz was perfect in the first half, literally. Wisconsin’s QB was 14-for-14 for 190 yards and four touchdowns before halftime.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

TWEET OF THE GAME

WHO’S NEXT

The Illini will look to get back on track next week as they host Purdue on Halloween at 11 a.m. on Big Ten Network.