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Tom Oates: Grading Badgers' performance in season-opening victory over Fighting Illini

Tom Oates: Grading Badgers' performance in season-opening victory over Fighting Illini

From the Relive Badgers' opening-night victory with State Journal's in-depth coverage of UW's rout of Illinois series

Tom Oates grades the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers' performance in their 45-7 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini in their season opener Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. 

Offense: B-plus

Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz did it all in his starting debut. His fumble aside, Jake Ferguson had a huge game with seven catches for 72 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Davis could be the deep threat UW is seeking. Nakia Watson and Garrett Groshek ran hard but the running game fell short of its usual standards.

Defense: A

UW's rangy, quick and physical line dominated the line of scrimmage, making plays between the tackles and setting up linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal for many more. Almost all of Illinois' rushing yards came around the ends. Rachad Wildgoose held Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois' top wide receiver, to three catches and 26 yards.

Special teams: C

Andy Vujnovich's first UW punt went 60 yards and was downed at the 7. Thank you, NCAA. Stephan Bracey negated a 37-yard kickoff return when his knee touched down as he made the catch. Instead, UW started on the 4. Using Jack Dunn and Davis in tandem deep was a smart move against Blake Hayes, the Big Ten's best punter.

Coaching: A

Paul Chryst made a statement by going for it on fourth-and-1 near midfield in a 7-0 game. UW receivers often found themselves wide open. That's coaching. UW played the end of the half perfectly, getting 14 points in the final 2 minutes. The dominant line is going to give Jim Leonhard a million options when calling defenses.

Overall: B-plus

UW got revenge against Illinois for last season's upset with a dominating — and eye-opening — victory. It was eye-opening because Mertz threw the ball so effectively against Lovie Smith's defense. Mertz's performance overshadowed a stellar defensive effort. Illinois' offense failed to score a point and threw for only 87 yards.

Stunning start: Twitter reacts to Graham Mertz's strong play

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