Wisconsin bounces back to beat New Mexico State ahead of the team’s Big Ten opener against Ohio St.

Wisconsin bounces back to beat New Mexico State ahead of the team’s Big Ten opener against Ohio St.

MADISON – The most important development in Wisconsin’s 66-7 victory over New Mexico State on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium happened on the UW sideline.

That came when, after watching UW fail to move the ball for the second consecutive series, offensive line coach Bob Bostad made two changes to his unit.

Right tackle Logan Brown, making his second start in place of Riley Mahlman (leg injury), and right guard Michael Furtney sat out UW’s fourth offensive possession. They were replaced by Trey Wedig and Tanor Bortolini, respectively.

UW responded by scoring on four straight possessions, with three of the drives 56 yards or more — to turn a 7-0 lead into a 35-0 halftime advantage.

Drives were: seven plays 63 yards; four plays, 56 yards; two plays, 2 yards; and five plays, 63 yards.

“We were fortunate with what Bort was able to do … that he was able to play,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Same thought with Trey. Kind of put them (out there) and get them some reps. I wanted to do it early. I thought it was empowering to have them there.”

Brown and Furtney eventually returned to the lineup for the final drive of the half and took the opening drive of the second half.

BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 66, New Mexico State 7

GAME PRIZES: Quarterback Graham Mertz has another quality performance in the win over New Mexico State

Tanor Bortolini and Trey Wedig anchor the Badgers offensive line

Still, the introduction of Bortolini, who missed the first two games with a knee injury, and Wendig appeared to solidify the No. 1 unit. The Badgers scored touchdowns on all five drives. Bortolini and Wendig were on the field together.

Bortolini missed the first two games because he suffered a partial meniscus tear and cartilage damage in his right knee in camp. Wendig has worked at center, right guard and right tackle so far this season.

Quarterback Graham Mertz didn’t know he had a new right side of the line until he took the field for the fourth inning.

“I noticed it when I looked up and called the play and I see a different face,” he said. “They came in and did a great job.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys in that room that can come in and play. I’m comfortable with whoever is up there.”

UW (2-1) opens Big Ten play next week at No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes cruised to a 77-21 win over Toledo to improve to 3-0.

After his team’s 17-14 loss to Washington a week earlier, Chryst wanted to see UW play a clean game by cutting down on penalties and turnovers.

The Badgers were penalized 11 times for 110 yards, had three turnovers and missed two field goals in a three-point loss to Washington State.

They played a much cleaner game against New Mexico State (0-4).

Wisconsin's Braelon Allen runs 36 yards for a touchdown during the first quarter of their game against New Mexico State on Saturday.  Allen ran for three touchdowns in the game.

Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen runs 36 yards for a touchdown during the first quarter of their game against New Mexico State on Saturday. Allen ran for three touchdowns in the game.

Graham Mertz passes and Braylon Allen rushes each 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, though the ball was dropped near the line of scrimmage.

Mertz was 8 of 11 for 146 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He finished 12 of 15 for 251 yards, with three touchdowns and an 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, “kids played physical. Even on special teams, you could see kids 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 is allowing a total of 17 points, 55.0 yards rushing per game and has limited opponents to a 22.7 percent conversion rate on third downs. Jim Leonhard’s unit had the edge for most of the day against an offense that averaged just 4.4 yards per play and 230.7 total yards per game through the first three weeks.

The Aggies converted just 1 of 8 third downs and produced just 100 total yards in the first half when the score was decided. New Mexico State avoided the shutout with a fourth-quarter score against UW’s backups and finished with just 242 yards on 66 plays. Seventy-five of the yards came on the touchdown drive.

“The response,” Chryst said, “that piece has satisfied me. You get a chance to play the game and I thought the guys were ready and they came out and played.”

The Badgers turned to two new players – freshman Gavin Lahm on kickoffs and freshman Nate Van Zelst for field goals and extra points.

The reason? Jack Van Dyke and Vito Calvaruso are out with right leg injuries. According to Chryst, the staff knew late Thursday/early Friday that Lahm and Van Zelst would be needed.

Lahm recorded eight touchbacks in 11 kickoffs, and Van Zelst hit all nine of his extra point attempts and his only field goal attempt, a 27-yarder in the final quarter.

Wisconsin's Isaac Guerendo (20) finds a seam on defense during the third quarter Saturday against New Mexico State.  Guerendo had two touchdowns.

Wisconsin’s Isaac Guerendo (20) finds a seam on defense during the third quarter Saturday against New Mexico State. Guerendo had two touchdowns.

Isaac Guerendo’s big kickoff return propels the Badgers to success

The Badgers got the ball first and started at the New Mexico State 49 after Guerendo returned the 50-yard line.

It took UW just three plays — all runs — to score. Allen capped the drive with a 39-yard run up the right sideline with 13:30 left in the first quarter.

The Badgers’ second drive ended at their 48 when Mertz just overthrew Chimere Dike, who was wide open near the New Mexico State sideline.

Andy Vujnovich’s punt went into the end zone and the Aggies took over at their own 20 with 6:57 left in the quarter.

The Badgers quickly got the ball back thanks to a one-handed cut by cornerback Ricardo Hallman on a deep ball.

UW started at its own 42, but went three and out as Mertz was sacked on third-and-5. It appeared that Allen missed a pick-up blitz on the play.

Bob Bostad’s change to the Badgers’ offensive line is paying off

The Badgers got the ball back to their 37 after another New Mexico State punt, and Bostad pulled Brown and Furtney and put in Wedig and Bortolini.

Those drives seemed to bolster the line, and UW drove 63 yards in seven plays, the final five runs for 47 total yards — for a 14-0 lead. Mellusi finished the drive with a 2-yard run.

New Mexico State struck out three times again, and Bostad stuck with the revamped lineup.

The Badgers took advantage of two New Mexico State personal fouls to drive 56 yards in four plays, with Mertz hitting Keontez Lewis for an 18-yard score to push the lead to 21-0 with 12:22 left in the half. .

Badgers defense sets up another Wisconsin touchdown

The UW defense arrived with its second down party, as linebacker Maema Njongmeta caught a ball that bounced off the hands of a New Mexico State tailback and into the air. Njongmeta caught the ball at the 6, gained 4 yards at the 2, and Allen scored on a 1-yard run two plays later.

Skyler Bell had 108 receiving yards on four receptions with two touchdowns.

Skyler Bell had 108 receiving yards on four receptions with two touchdowns.

UW’s lead was 28-0 with 11:17 left in the half and the offense wasn’t done.

The Aggies had to punt again, this time after a first down, and UW took over at its own 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 give UW a 35-0 lead with 6:09 left in the half .

UW’s final drive of the half ended when Mertz threw an interception inside the Aggies’ 5, though the ball rolled near the scrimmage line.

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 opener against the Buckeyes. Mahlman’s status for the league opener remains uncertain. But even if Mahlman loses his third straight game, it looks like Bostad has found a new No. 1 line.

“Definitely proud of the way the guys handled themselves all week,” Chryst said. “I thought one thing that struck me today watching it was that a lot of guys did it and they allowed others … we were able to play a lot of guys.

“That’s because you had a team taking care of business and giving them a chance to play. That’s always good.”

More: What you need to know about “Jump Around” at Badger football games

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This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Badgers crush New Mexico St. with big day by Mertz, Allen

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