Through eight quarters of football, No. 17 Wisconsin’s defense has yet to allow a single point. They put together another dominant performance Saturday afternoon, as Wisconsin (2-0) defeated Central Michigan (1-1) 61-0 in the Badgers’ home opener at Camp Randall Stadium.
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks all season long, and junior Jack Coan has done nothing but impress through two starts under center. Coan completed 26 of 33 attempts for 363 yards and three touchdowns--once again without committing a turnover. The offense utilized a great balance of run-and-pass, staying away from the predictable carries that stalled many drives last year.
Coan, who missed wide receiver Quintez Cephus deep twice in week one, threw two beautiful deep spirals to Cephus on Saturday for 36-yard and 46-yard touchdowns. Coan added a third score on a short pass that Jonathan Taylor took 17 yards into the end zone.
Taylor’s Heisman campaign took another big step forward against the Chippewas defense. The two-time reigning FBS rushing yards leader Taylor added three more rushing touchdowns to go along with his receiving score, bringing him to eight total touchdowns on the season through just two (!) games.
The highlight of the game, however, might just be true freshman quarterback Graham Mertz making his NCAA debut in the second half with the Badgers comfortably ahead. Mertz shook off early nerves to complete four of his five passes for 35 yards, and showed why scouts and coaches have such high hopes for the youngster.
Backup running back Nakia Watson was featured early and often in this one, carrying the ball eight times for 32 yards and a score. On his touchdown carry, Watson was initially ruled down at the one-yard line, but official review showed that he did indeed keep both of his knees off the ground until the ball had already broken the goal line.
While Watson’s performance Saturday wasn’t as dominant as week one, it’s interesting to see head coach Paul Chryst breaking in the redshirt freshman with a lot of game action. With Taylor expected to leave for the NFL Draft this spring, Watson looks like the way too early favorite to take over the starting running back spot.
As for the Central Michigan offensive attack — it was unsuccessful. The Chippewas ran 45 plays for just 58 total yards, and just three first downs. Quarterback Quinten Dormady finished just 5/12 with an interception, and was under heavy pressure from both sides of Wisconsin’s D-Line all game long. Badgers linebacker Jack Sanborn had the lone interception, a second-quarter pick that set up a Wisconsin 27-yard touchdown drive to increase the lead to 23-0.
The Wisconsin defense recorded their first safety of the season on an odd misplay by CMU punter Brady Buell early in the first quarter. Buell, punting from his own three yard line, fumbled the snap and then was wrestled to the ground by UW linebacker John Chenal. The ball rolled backward into the endzone, where two Badgers defenders unsuccessfully attempted to corral the ball. It ultimately rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety, and a 9-0 Wisconsin lead.
Through two games, the Badgers' point differential stands at 110-0, and it’s hard to say which unit of the team has been more encouraging so far. With No. 7 Michigan and No. 25 Nebraska struggling in week two matchups against solid opponents in Army and Colorado, respectively, Wisconsin’s schedule is suddenly not looking as daunting as it did in July.
But it will take more than two dominant performances against Group of Five schools in order for Wisconsin to prove that they deserve to be in the top-ten conversation once again. After a bye week next weekend, the Badgers will have the perfect chance to do just that, as they welcome Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines into Camp Randall for a week four showdown.