Mertz is magical as No. 14 Wisconsin whips Illinois
Graham Mertz tied a school record by completing his first 17 passes Friday night as No. 14 Wisconsin routed Illinois 45-7 in the Big Ten conference football opener at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.
A redshirt freshman making his first career start, Mertz finished 20 of 21 for 248 yards and five touchdowns. His only incompletion occurred with 6:02 left in the third quarter on a third-and-long when running back Garrett Groshek dropped the pass.
Mertz hit all 14 of his passes in the first half for 190 yards in a performance so crisp that it even drew raves on Twitter from former NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Prior to this game, Mertz’s only action came at the end of two blowout nonconference wins last year in which he connected on 9 of 10 passes. Mertz was scheduled to back up returning starter Jack Coan until Coan sustained a foot injury two weeks ago.
Mertz set one Wisconsin single-game record by completing 95.2 percent of his passes and tied another with his five touchdown passes.
Mertz initiated the scoring just 3:23 into the game when he found fullback Mason Stokke for a 10-yard touchdown pass, six plays after an Illinois fumble. Mertz took advantage of the first of multiple coverage busts by the Fighting Illini (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) and hit Stokke in the right flat.
Tight end Jake Ferguson made it 14-0 early in the second quarter on a 5-yard scoring reception, the first of his three touchdowns. Illinois drew back into the game briefly when Tarique Barnes recovered a Ferguson fumble and rumbled 39 yards with 3:22 left in the half.
Wisconsin (1-0, 1-0) put the game away with two scores in a 38-second span. Mertz found Ferguson on a post pattern for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:06 left. After a three-and-out, Mertz lofted a 53-yard bomb to a wide-open Danny Davis 28 seconds before the break.
Fullback John Chenal added a 2-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter, and Mertz capped his incredible performance with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ferguson with 4:53 left.
Illini quarterback Brandon Peters completed just 8 of 19 passes for 87 yards before being pulled in the fourth quarter.
–Field Level Media