MADISON – The most significant development occurred during Wisconsin’s 66-7 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium on the University sideline.
That happened when offensive line coach Bob Bostad made two changes to his unit after UW failed to move the ball for the second straight.
Right tackle Logan Brown, making his second start in place of Riley Mahlman (leg injury), and right guard Michael Furtney stayed on the sideline for UW’s fourth offensive possession. Trey Wedig and Tanor Bortolini replaced them, respectively.
UW responded by scoring on four consecutive possessions, with three of the drives going 56 yards or longer – to turn a 7-0 lead into a 35-0 halftime advantage.
The drives were: seven plays for 63 yards; four plays, 56 yards; two plays, 2 yards; and five plays, 63 yards.
“We were fortunate with what Bort was capable of … that he could play,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Same idea as Trey. Kind of get them in (there) and get some reps. Wanted to do it early. I thought it was energetic to have them there.”
Brown and Furtney finally returned to the lineup for the last series of the half and got the starting series of the second half.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 66, New Mexico State 7
GAME AWARDS: Quarterback Graham Mertz has another quality performance in a win over New Mexico State
Tanor Bortolini and Trey Wedig anchor the Badgers’ offensive line
However, Bortolini, who missed the first two games due to a knee injury, and Wedig appeared to be the No.1 unit.
Bortolini missed the first two games because he suffered a partially torn meniscus and damaged cartilage in his right knee in camp. Wedig has worked at center, right guard and right tackle so far this season.
Quarterback Graham Mertz didn’t know until he took the field for the fourth series that he had a new right side of the line.
“I noticed it when I looked up and I’m calling the play and see another face,” he said. “They came in and did a great job.
“We have a lot of guys in that room that can step in and play. I’m comfortable with whoever’s up there.”
UW (2-1) opens Big Ten play next week at No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat Toledo 77-21 to improve to 3-0.
After his team’s mistake-filled 17-14 loss to Washington State one week earlier, Chryst was to see UW play a clean game by cutting down on penalties and turnovers.
The Badgers were penalized 11 times for 110 yards, suffered three turnovers and missed two field goal attempts in a three-point loss to Washington State.
They played a much cleaner game against New Mexico State (0-4).
Graham Mertz passing and Braelon Allen rushing all accounts for three touchdowns
UW was penalized twice for 25 yards to build a 35-0 halftime lead and finished with four penalties for 50 yards. Mertz threw an interception in the red zone, even though the ball was tipped near the line of scrimmage.
Mertz hit 8 of 11 attempts for 146 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He finished 12 of 15 for 251 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, before exiting in the third quarter.
That pushed Mertz’s season marks to 44 of 62 (71.0%) for 697 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Across the board,” Mertz said, “guys were playing physical. Even on special teams, you could see guys flying around and having fun doing it.”
Braelon Allen rushed 15 times for 86 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow tailback Isaac Guerendo rushed 12 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns and Chez Mellusi rushed 10 times for 71 yards and a touchdown.
UW’s defense came in allowing 17 total points, 55.0 rushing yards per game and limiting opponents to a 22.7% conversion rate on third down. Jim Leonhard’s unit held the advantage most of the day against an offense that averaged just 4.4 yards per play and 230.7 total yards per game in the first three weeks.
The Aggies converted just 1 of 8 third downs and generated just 100 total yards in the first half, when the outcome was decided. New Mexico State avoided the shutout with a fourth-quarter score against UW’s reserves and finished with just 242 yards on 66 plays. Seventy-five of the yards came on the touchdown drive.
“The answer,” Chryst said, “that part I was happy with. You get a chance to play the game and I thought guys were ready and came out and played.”
The Badgers turned to two new kickers – freshman Gavin Lahm on kickoffs and redshirt freshman Nate Van Zelst on field goals and extra points.
The reason? Jack Van Dyke and Vito Calvaruso were out with right leg injuries. According to Chryst, the team knew late Thursday/early Friday that Lahm and Van Zelst would be needed.
Lahm recorded eight touchdowns on 11 kicks and Van Zelst hit all nine of his extra point attempts and his lone field goal attempt, from 27 yards in the final quarter.
Isaac Guerendo’s big return in the opener boosts the Badgers
The Badgers got the ball first and started from the New Mexico State 49 after Guerendo returned the kickoff 50 yards.
UW needed just three plays — all runs — to score. Allen capped the drive with a 39-yard run over the right sideline with 13:30 left in the first quarter.
The Badgers’ second drive ended at their 48 when Mertz threw right across to Chimere Dike, who was wide open near the New Mexico State sideline.
Andy Vujnovich’s punt was carried into the end zone and the Algiers took the lead at their 20 with 6:57 left in the quarter.
The Badgers got the ball back quickly, thanks to a one-handed interception by fullback Ricardo Hallman on a deep ball.
UW started from its 42 but went three-and-out, as Mertz was sacked on third-and-5. Allen appeared to miss a blitz pick-up on the play.
Bob Bostad’s switch to the Badgers’ offensive line pays off
The Badgers got the ball back at their 37 after another New Mexico State punt and Bostad pulled Brown and Furtney and sent in Wedig and Bortolini.
Those moves seemed to bolster the line and UW drove 63 yards in seven plays, the last five for a combined 47 yards — for a 14-0 lead. Mellusi capped the drive with a 2-yard run.
New Mexico State went three-and-out again and Bostad stuck with the turnover line.
The Badgers took advantage of two New Mexico State personal fouls to drive 56 yards in four plays, and Mertz hit Keontez Lewis for an 18-yard score to help push the lead to 21-0 with 12:22 left in the half.
Badgers defense sets up another Wisconsin touchdown
The UW defense came up with its second takeaway, when goalie Maema Njongmeta caught a ball that bounced off the hands of the New Mexico State goalie and into the air. Njongmeta caught the ball at the 6, gained 4 yards to the 2 and Allen scored on a 1-yard run two plays later.
UW was up 28-0 with 11:17 left in the half and the offense wasn’t done.
The Aggies had to punt again, this time after picking one down, and UW took over at the 37.
Mertz hit Skyler Bell for 37 yards to the Aggies’ 26 on first down and Allen capped the five-play drive with a 2-yard run to help put UW ahead 35-0 with 6:09 left in the half.
UW’s final series of the half ended when Mertz threw an interception inside the Aggies’ 5, even though the ball was tipped near the line of scrimmage.
New Mexico State drove to the UW 12 but Ethan Albertson pushed his 29-yard field goal attempt wide right with four seconds left in the half.
Bell added an 18-yard touchdown catch in the second half and led UW receivers with four catches for 108 yards.
The competition ramps up significantly for the Big Ten game against the Buckeyes. Mahlman’s status for the series opener remains uncertain. But even if Mahlman misses his third game in a row, the new No. 1 found by Bostad.
“Definitely proud of the way the guys handled the whole week,” said Chryst. “I thought one thing that hit me today watching it was that there were a lot of guys who got it and gave other people a chance … we were able to play a lot of guys.
“That happens because you’ve got a group to take care of business and give them a chance to play. That’s always good.”
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This article originally appeared on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Badgers run New Mexico St. with a big day from Mertz, Allen