5 most clutch performances from Wisconsin vs. Michigan

Nakia Watson, Wisconsin Badgers (Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Nakia Watson, Wisconsin Badgers (Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports) /
Army National Guard
Army National Guard /

The Wisconsin Badgers returned from a COVID-related hiatus to rout the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House and these were the most clutch performers.

It had been since a Friday night season-opening win over Illinois three weeks ago since we’d seen the Wisconsin Badgers on the field. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the program, Paul Chryst’s team had two games canceled. And their first foray back onto the gridiron appeared to be a tricky one as a team trying to regain their footing had to go to the Big House to face the Michigan Wolverines.

Despite a 1-2 start and disappointment throughout Ann Arbor, the hope was that the talent of the Wolverines would push the Badgers on Saturday night, especially with Jim Harbaugh’s team playing at home. Instead, it was a dominant return for Wisconsin as they routed their Big Ten foes by a final count of 49-11.

From the opening kickoff, everything came up the Badgers’ way. And you could say that it was a massive team win for Chryst’s group. But as we break down this game, let’s take a look at the five most clutch performers from Wisconsin vs. Michigan.

Clutch performer No. 5: Graham Mertz, QB, Wisconsin

Prior to him testing positive for COVID-19 and the Badgers then being forced to have two games canceled, sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz debuted with a monster five-touchdown performance against Illinois. His numbers against Michigan weren’t remotely close to that but he stepped up against a better opponent (on paper) and delivered a steady, strong outing.

Mertz finished the game going 12-of-22 for 127 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. Again, he wasn’t out-of-this-world good but he didn’t need to be. The youngster made a handful of nice plays and, more importantly, stayed mistake-free to guide his team to a statement performance.

Clutch performer No. 4: Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin

With Mertz not needing to throw that often, there weren’t a lot of pass-catchers who made a big impact for the Badgers. However, it shouldn’t be a shock that tight end Jake Ferguson led the way in that department given his pedigree and track record of success.

Ferguson led the team across the board with four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. While he’s not going to be the most dominant player on any field, he’s a consistent and reliable force for a young quarterback and that proved to be valuable on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Clutch performer No. 3: Cade McNamara, QB, Michigan

Suffice it to say that not much went right for Michigan on Saturday night, particularly for Joe Milton. The quarterback’s struggles continued with two early interceptions and an overall line of just 98 yards passing and 15 yards rushing. In the second half, he was eventually benched for sophomore Cade McNamara.

Make no mistake, McNamara’s overall performance wasn’t all that impressive. But his first drive after having not played this year was. He came in and delivered a few strikes to give Michigan their first and only touchdown of the game, then added a dime for a two-point conversion. He tailed off a bit after but his initial showing was the biggest sign of life the Wolverines showed.

Clutch performer No. 2: Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin

While it was Scott Nelson who picked off Joe Milton on Michigan’s first drive of the game, Leo Chenal’s was the more critical play for the Badgers in the dominant victory. On the Wolverines’ second drive, they could’ve started to get something rolling.

Instead, linebacker Leo Chenal shut that down, not only giving Milton his second interception in as many drives but also taking it 33 yards to set up another easy score for Wisconsin. That gave the Badgers a commanding 14-0 lead and they never looked back.

Clutch performer No. 1: Nakia Watson, RB, Wisconsin

As mentioned, it was undoubtedly a team effort from the Wisconsin offense and, thanks to stellar defense, there were very few long drives because they didn’t need them. But lead running back Nakia Watson came up with the biggest night on that side of the ball, which stands out.

Watson rushed 12 times for 65 yards and two touchdowns and was a consistent banger for the Badgers on the ground. He may not be the second coming of Jonathan Taylor but, in a big game, the back delivered an undeniably strong performance to set them up for a blowout win.

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