Illinois struggles in season opener, falling to Wisconsin 45-7

Quarterback Brandon Peters brought down at midfield (Courtesy John Peterson).{ }

MADISON, Wis. (WCCU/WICS/WRSP) - Illinois failed to get going in any phase, falling to No. 14 Wisconsin 45-7 under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers were led by a breakout performance from quarterback Graham Mertz. The redshirt-freshman, starting in place of the injured Jack Coan, put forth a dominant performance completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns.

After the Badgers got out to a 14-0 lead, the Illini defense provided a spark late in the second quarter. Safety Sydney Brown forced a fumble that was recovered and returned for a defensive touchdown by Tarique Barnes.

"That was supposed to be my play anyway so him catching the ball was kind of like get right after that," Barnes said. "Start going down, the ball comes loose, punched it out, it slipped out under everybody else, I saw it rolling out. Pick up, score, that's the first thing we go for."

Wisconsin answered quickly, as Mertz threw two more touchdown passes to close out the second quarter, giving the Badgers a 28-7 lead at the half en route to the lopsided victory.

"It only counts one loss," Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. "I mean it's kind of as simple as that. When you play as bad as we did, you expect to lose. You know a lot of those routes, we had one or two guys going out, we have to be able to play better coverage than that. The touchdown passes that we gave up, you know busted coverages. I mean it's pretty easy to score when you have busted coverages back there. Gotta have more discipline than that."

Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters struggled to find a rhythm, completing just 8 of 19 passes for 87 yards, while rushing for 75 yards on 7 carries.

Senior captain Jake Hansen left the game in the first quarter after taking a blow to the head. He did not return.

Illinois returns to the field on October 31, hosting Purdue in the home opener at Memorial Stadium.