The Wisconsin Badgers kicked off the 2020 college football season with a 45-7 thumping of the Illinois Fighting Illini without fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, in his first collegiate start, completed his first 17 passes and ended up completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns.
Mertz five touchdown passes tied the highest single-game total in UW history, matching the school record set by Darrell Bevell vs. Nevada in 1993 and Jim Sorgi vs. Michigan State in 2003.
The 14th ranked Badgers won their 25th straight home opener and their eighth straight game over the Illini in Madison. They avenged a one-point loss to the Illini in Champaign last season.
Illinois scored their only points after forcing a fumble by Badger tight end Jake Ferguson and linebacker Tarique Barnes returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.
Ferguson would make up for his miscue though, finishing with a career high seven receptions for 72 yards to go along with a career best three touchdown catches.
The Badger defense pitched a shutout, although they did struggle to contain Illini quarterback Brandon Peters on outside runs. He finished with 75 yards on seven carries. But that’s about all the Badger defense struggled with on the night.
The running game has been a staple for Wisconsin for many years, but Friday night, they rained just 182 yards on 54 carries. Senior Garrett Groshek led the way with 70 yards on 13 carries.
The Badgers held Illinois to just 218 yards and eight first downs. Those numbers are the fewest by a UW Big Ten opponent since Michigan State totaled just 149 yards and seven first downs against UW last season.
Wisconsin dominated the time of possession by a margin of 43:28 to 16:32. That’s UW’s most lopsided total since owning a 44:31 to 15:29 advantage over Minnesota in 2004.
The Badgers finished a perfect 6-for-6 in red zone opportunities, scoring 5 touchdowns and 1 field goal.
Wisconsin will hit the road for the first time next Saturday, facing the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Nebraska.