While Illinois was coming off an exciting victory over Michigan State, it was all Wisconsin in this one, as the Badgers demolished the Fighting Illini, 48-3. From offense to defense, Wisconsin was operating on all cylinders for their Homecoming crowd.
Matching a career high with three touchdowns, Corey Clement again ran for over 100 yards (123), and was just one of many Wisconsin rushers who contributed to the teams combined 363 yards rushing. Although the receivers played a secondary role in the offense today, Jazz Peavy scored on a first quarter touchdown and continued to show why he is one of the better receivers in the conference.
And despite putting up 31 points in the first half, with three touchdowns coming in the first quarter alone, it was the defense that truly set the tempo early on. Four interceptions from three different players, Wisconsin’s defense consistently gave the offense exceptional field position.
It was truly a team victory, and while the Badgers absolutely dominated and did everything right, their weaknesses were still under watch as both quarterbacks, Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston, took snaps today.
While Hornibrook and Houston each threw for one touchdown, and doing what was asked of them, the inconsistency at the quarterback position, that maintain this far into the season, may be what costs Wisconsin during a potential conference championship, bowl game, or even a shot a the national title.
And don’t rule Wisconsin out of a playoff appearance just yet. While many fans lost hope that a two loss team could even make the playoffs, with Wisconsin’s resume and if they continue to dominate like they did against Illinois, they could certainly have a chance if they win out.
Wisconsin has the best chance of any Big 10 team to make it to the conference championship next month, and although Michigan and Ohio State both beat the Badgers and are currently ranked higher, a Big 10 Championship may lead to a playoff birth, even with two losses.
And when Wisconsin very likely may face Penn State in the conference championship (which may help or hurt them), don’t underestimate Wisconsin’s chances of winning their next three.
If, which is still a big “if”, Wisconsin does make it to the playoffs, they will have to figure out this quarterback situation. Neither Hornibrook or Houston will turn into an elite quarterback by the end of the season, but one of them will need to step up, even with Wisconsin’s elite defense. To what extent and who will be the one to do it? Only time will tell.
The Badgers will look to keep their playoff hopes and chances at winning the Big 10 alive, next week at Purdue, for a 11:00 AM Saturday game in West Lafayette.
Moments ago, the seventh ranked Wisconsin Badgers gave their homecoming crowd in Madison, WI a big “W”, as Wisconsin defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini. Although Illinois was coming of an excellent win against the talented Michigan State, the energy flowing through Camp Randall this afternoon was just too much for the Illini to handle, and RB Kendrick Foster just wasn’t able to find the same success against against Wisconsin elite defense.
Despite missing their star tailback Corey Clement for a seventh straight game and losing their senior quarterback Joel Stave in the first quarter, the Wisconsin Badgers were able to grind out another victory; this time on the road versus a much improved Illinois Fighting Illini team by a score of 24-13.
It took some time before the first points flashed up on the scoreboard in Champagne. The Fighting Illini received the game’s opening kickoff. They would punt shortly thereafter.
The Badgers would go three and out on their first possession. The Illinois’ defensive line flexed their muscle early and often, getting into the backfield with relative ease. They got to Badgers quarterback Joel Stave repeatedly, knocking him down, and forcing rushed throws.
Mike Phair, Illinois’ new co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach has made a huge impact on this Fighting Illini squad. Phair has been able to focus his guys game in and game out; a defensive group that includes some NFL quality talent.
After one more punt apiece, the Fighting Illini were finally able to convert a drive into points. A sloppy 9 play, 18 yard drive by Illinois was capped with a 37 yard field goal by senior kicker Taylor Zalewski.
A few more hits on Stave by a possessed Fighting Illini front line was all it took for them to knock the Badgers senior play-caller out of the game with what appeared to be a concussion. The Badgers training staff took away Stave’s helmet on the sidelines as they walked him to the locker room.
The Badgers season now rested on the right arm of junior backup quarterback Bart Houston who, until today, had never thrown a pass in conference play in his collegiate career. Houston, at 6’4” 228 pounds was certainly ready for his number to be called Saturday.
Having just come in for the injured Stave, Houston and the Badgers were facing a third down and 9 from the Illini 23 yard line. Houston, with a quick three step drop, floated a beauty of a throw to the right corner near the pylon to junior wide-out Robert Wheelwright. Wheelwright, who hauled the pass in while being able to turn up field just enough to dive and break the plane, made it 7-3 Wisconsin.
The spectacular effort from Wheelwright continued a trend of elite athleticism for the junior. It also was his fourth touchdown reception on the season, which leads the Badgers. Wisconsin would later lose Wheelwright to an injury. He did not return for the Badgers.
A 26 yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone with 7:03 remaining in the half set the half time score in Wisconsin’s favor, 10-7.
The Badgers missed a golden opportunity to push the lead heading into halftime. Houston was picked off by Illinois sophomore cornerback Eaton Spence in the end zone with just 33 seconds remaining.
The Badgers started the second half with two punts, unable to get their makeshift offense in gear. On the Fighting Illini’s second possession of the final half, they broke through the Badgers stout defense.
Illinois’ junior quarterback Wes Lunt found his rhythm. He completed passes of 16, 15, and 19 yards. The 5 play 86 yard drive was capped by freshman tailback Ke’Shawn Vaugh on an impressive 36 yard sprint right up the gut. Vaugh is filling in at running back for Illinois while their star running back, Josh Ferguson, continues to recover from a shoulder injury.
The Fighting Illini wouldn’t enjoy their third quarter lead for long. The Badgers came right back on the next drive and scored on an Alec Ingold 2 yard touchdown run, making it 17-13 Wisconsin. From there, the Badgers would not look back.
Wisconsin capped the day’s scoring with another touchdown, this time it was Houston connecting with senior wide receiver Alex Erickson on the Badgers very next possession. The 9 yard pass and catch play came on third down and goal from the Illinois 9.
Wisconsin continued their resurgence on third down efficiency, which has been a point of emphasis lately for head coach Paul Chryst. The Badgers finished the game a healthy 9/16 on the critical down.
The Badgers again struggled to run the ball with efficiency. Senior #1 wide receiver Alex Erickson was unquestionably the player of the game, doing a little bit of everything for the Badgers’ offense. Erickson saved the ground game for Wisconsin too on Saturday, rushing for 81 yards on 4 carries. Erickson also hauled in 10 catches for 96 yards and that capper score.
Bart Houston, who was thrust into action following the Stave concussion, performed very well, leading the Badgers offense on many crucial drives in the second half. Houston finished the game 22/33 for 232 yards with two touchdowns. Houston had two interceptions, but they did not hurt the Badgers chances Saturday.
Illinois’ quarterback Wes Lunt had a quiet but decent day, finishing with 278 yards and a pick. He and Illinois just weren’t able to convert in the red zone, the few times they got deep into Badgers’ territory.
Badgers’ senior safety Michael Caputo picked off Lunt for his second interception on the season.
Fighting Illini safety Clayton Fejedelem had a monster day for Illinois, helping keep the game closer than it maybe should have been. The junior finished the game with 19 tackles and an interception.
The Badgers will head back home next weekend for a matchup against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-3) on Halloween night in Madison, Wisconsin. The game kicks off at 11:00 am Central.
When the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) travel to Champagne, Illinois Saturday to take on the Fighting Illini ( 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), it’ll mark the first time in a quite a while where the game will mean this much to both teams.
The Badgers will need a big road win in order to keep pace with Big Ten leading Iowa. The Fighting Illini, despite canning their head football coach less than a week before the season even began, are also in the running.
Despite facing an abnormal amount of injuries this season, the Badgers have been able to hang their hat on their outstanding defense to win ball games. Wisconsin currently ranks seventh nationally in total defense, giving up just 272.4 yards per game. Wisconsin has also only given up 10.9 points per game, with only 2 of their 7 opponents thus far being able to score more than 10 points in a game against them.
Current Illinois head football coach Bill Cubit knows the challenges his team’s offense will face when they line up against Wisconsin on Saturday.
“The Edge guys and their linebackers are so active,” Cubit said. “They’ll find out what your protection is and they’ll find a way to get their best player on your worst player.”
Illinois is no slouch defensively either, as the Fighting Illini rank 30th nationally in total team defense, allowing only 332.5 yards per contest.
The Badgers are hoping to get a big boost from their star running back Corey Clement, who hasn’t played a down since the opening game at Alabama. Clement will be a game time decision for the Badgers.
Despite missing arguably their most valuable offensive player for much of this season, the Badgers have still had a good enough run game to where opponents must game plan for that part of Wisconsin’s attack.
Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal have filled in nicely for the Badgers, combining for over 800 yards and eight scores through seven games.
If Clement cannot go Saturday, look for the Badgers to continue to pass the football. Senior quarterback Joel Stave is having a fine senior season. Stave has completed 62.3% of his passes while on pace for a 3,000 yard season. Senior #1 receiver Alex Erickson comes into the game with 42 receptions for 549 yards, but just one touchdown. He and junior Robert Wheelwright, who leads the Badgers with three touchdown receptions, remain the favorite targets for Stave.
Wisconsin ranks fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 251 passing yards per game. After Clement went down with injury, Stave knew he’d be relied on much more within the Badgers offense.
“I knew we would have to throw it a little more,” noted Stave. “We’d have to be more balanced.”
Illinois will for sure be without its star tailback Josh Ferguson. The senior, who will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury, has ran for nearly five and a half yards per carry. The Fighting Illini are very thin at running back. Freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn will assume much of the load Saturday where he will face one of the best run-stopping defenses in the country in Wisconsin.
Illinois is just 1-9 against Wisconsin in their last 10 meetings. The lone win came in 2007, a 31-26 upset in a season that saw the Fighting Illini make it to the Rose Bowl.
Prediction:Wisconsin 28, Illinois 13
Game time: Saturday, October 17, 2:30 PM CT on BTN, BTN2; Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL
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