Not only has Wisconsin merely thrown its poor 1-3 start behind them, every single goal that they set out the season with wanting to accomplish is suddenly within reach. In their 52-3 dominant rout of a mediocre Rutgers team, Wisconsin is looking more and more like a complete team and one of the Big Ten’s elite.
Quarterback Graham Mertz, who has had more than his fair share of struggles this season, looked the best he has in a Badgers uniform since his Heisman-esque performance a year ago against Illinois. After a shaky start where he threw multiple balls directly into coverage and had one picked off, Mertz was absolutely lights out in the passing game throwing for over 200 yards and three touchdowns.
“I can say about everyone on the team, guys are truly putting out during the week,” said Mertz, who was 11 of 16 for 243 yards. "We see the work that everybody puts in and it’s getting to a special place. So [we’ve] got to keep building on it."
Wisconsin wasn’t just explosive in the passing game, but put out a complete offensive performance with Braelon Allen earning Big Ten Freshman of the week after running for over a hundred yards in his fifth consecutive game, the most for a Badger freshman since Anthony Davis in 2001. Wisconsin racked up almost 600 yards of total offense in the win over Rutgers, with Allen, Chez Mellusi and true freshman Jackson Acker out of Verona all running for a score.
Defensively, the highlight of the day was Caesar Williams’ early pick-6 for the Badgers where he scampered the ball 29 yards for a score. It was the first pick-6 for the Badgers outside of a bowl game in multiple seasons. The Badgers are forcing turnovers all over the place. They had eight in beating nationally ranked Iowa and Purdue in the previous two games. They added four more against Rutgers Saturday. The Scarlet Knights were limited to 207 yards. They had four in the first six games. Wisconsin’s turnover differential has dramatically improved over the winning streak, from -12 at its lowest point to -1 now.
Winning in the Big Ten conference is something that Badger fans have been able to take for granted over the past few decades. Games like Saturday’s rout of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights are a clear example of that reality. Wisconsin, a team who many national prognosticators wrote off early in the season after an objectively disappointing 1-3 start, has now won five straight games and is now bowl-eligible for the 20th straight season, one of the longest streaks in college football history.
This is not supposed to happen, the innate nature of the sport is supposed to ebb and flow. Good programs are supposed to have down seasons, and that is what most college football fans likely expected from Wisconsin earlier in the season after losing a close game against Penn State and getting relatively blown out against Notre Dame and Michigan. What had looked like a promising season for the Badgers to finally get over the hump and make it into the college football playoff had turned into what most assumed to be a lost season.
But the Badger football players persevered through all the noise and negative chatter by getting better, by playing more complete, complementary football. Now, Wisconsin has found itself on the verge of being able to compete for a Big Ten championship, something that most had written off as a possibility. Wisconsin will try to make that a reality this Saturday against Northwestern at Camp Randall, and Badger fans will be delighted to hear that it will kick-off at 11 a.m. Fans can catch the game on BTN or on 1010 WIBA.