Connect with us

Badgers football

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: Previews, predictions and prognostications

Published

on

When: Sat., Oct. 24; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Champaign, IL; Memorial Stadium
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 38-36-7
Last Meeting: Wisconsin 38-28 (2014)
Line: Wisconsin -6.5

The Badgers and Illini are the only two West Division teams with only one conference loss, but unfortunately for both, those losses came to the only undefeated team Iowa. Thus, this is an elimination game of sorts, as falling effectively three games behind the Hawkeyes probably ends title chances this season. Let’s count to 5 and determine which contender survives and becomes the primary chase to Iowa during the back half of the schedule!

1 Burning Question: Can either of these teams find a running game to complement a solid quarterback?

For years, Wisconsin has been a team that has built a reputation as a grinder, winning with dominant running backs and defense. While the defense has held up the usual standards in 2015, the running game has struggled thanks to Corey Clement’s injury and inconsistency from backups like Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale. Indeed, the Badgers currently sit a shocking 12th in the conference by running for only 154.6 yards per game.

As ineffective as Wisconsin’s rushing attack has been, Illinois is even worse. The Illini rank 13th in the conference with 137.5 yards per game rushing, with the best contributor being Ke’Shawn Vaughn thanks to injury problems by starter Josh Ferguson (UPDATE: Ferguson ruled out again for this game as well). The Illinois offense has therefore relied heavily on Wes Lunt and the passing game.

Likewise, Wisconsin is also led by a senior quarterback who has overcome adversity during his career to be in a good position now, that being Joel Stave. It’s clear that both teams will find openings in the passing game, even against defenses ready to stop it, but the team that discovers a running game should win this game and perhaps be in better position to make a run through the remaining schedule.

2 Key Stats

— 6. That’s the number of sacks Illinois has had in six games, by far the worst in the conference. In a game where the key to slowing Wisconsin’s offense will be shutting down Joel Stave, it would be nice to get pressure on a quarterback that struggles when such pressure is applied. However, the Illini defensive front has not been able to get off blocks against what appears to be worse lines than what Wisconsin brings to the field this Saturday. That does not bode well for Illinois to disrupt the most important Wisconsin weapon, the quarterback.

— 10.9. That’s the number of points Wisconsin gives up per game, which ranks 3rd nationally (behind only Michigan in the Big Ten). The only two teams to generate much offense at all against Wisconsin have been Alabama and Nebraska. Illinois has a decent offense, but it does not compare to what the Cornhuskers and Crimson Tide bring to the field. That means Illinois will likely struggle to reach its season average in points, and that’s problematic against a team as consistent as Wisconsin.

3 Key Players

Joe Schobert, Wisconsin LB — Following a 2014 season where Schobert achieved three sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss, this Badger linebacker has been an even more disruptive force in 2015. He currently ranks second in the conference with 9.5 sacks and second in tackles-for-loss as well with 14.5. With a pass-heavy offense on the docket this week, look for Schobert to have another big performance with the pass rush (and run contain) and perhaps take the lead in one of these statistical categories away from Carl Nassib at Penn State.

Geronimo Allison, Illinois WR — The best weapon Illinois and QB Wes Lunt has at his disposal is Allison, who has put up 601 receiving yards on 40 receptions this season. That leads the conference as far as receptions per game, and if he can find the end zone a bit more (only three touchdowns in 2015), then this team has a chance to knock off better teams like Wisconsin. If Illinois is going to defend the home field and win this game, Allison will need to be a big factor and perhaps get one or two scores against the Wisconsin defense.

Taylor Barton, Illinois SS — The Illini pass defense ranks in the top 25 nationally in yards per game as well as in pass efficiency rating, and a big part of that resurgence is the youngest member of the secondary, the junior Barton. This safety has generated three interceptions and has 3 other pass break-ups on the season, and he’s been good at assisting other members of the secondary to stop big plays from the opposition. Of the Illini defenders, Joel Stave cannot afford to lose track of Barton, or else a big mistake may swing this game into the Illini’s favor.

4 Bold Prognostications

Wisconsin rushes for 100 more yards than Illinois: Thanks to the efforts of a strong linebacker crew including Vince Biegel, Chris Orr, as well as Schobert, Wisconsin boasts one of the most effective rushing defenses in the country. Illinois is not quite as good against the run, which is why I think this is a game where Wisconsin goes “old school” and forces Illinois into submission with the rushing attack. While also completely shutting down any combination of Ke’Shawn Vaughn and other backs who carry the load this weekend.

Illinois generates a special teams touchdown: Clayton Fejedelem and Marchie Murdock both have a punt return touchdown this season, while V’Angelo Bentley ranks 21st nationally by averaging 11.6 yards per punt return. Wisconsin punter Drew Meyer averages 35 yards net per punt and therefore doesn’t outback his coverage much, but this still has the makings of a game where the Illini make a big play in special teams. That type of play could ignite whatever crowd is present in Champaign and make for a raucous environment, well, as raucous as Memorial Stadium gets.

Both teams will turn the ball over in the red zone: These are two of the worst teams in the Big Ten at red zone efficiency, with Wisconsin coming in at 80.6 percent and Illinois even lower at 70.8 percent. Although Illinois has yet to turn the ball over in this part of the field, Wisconsin has had a couple critical turnovers. Expect both teams to be forcing the issue and trying for touchdowns, which in a swirling wind day in Champaign could lead to duck-like passes that go for interceptions at the most back-breaking time.

Wes Lunt passes for 300 yards but Illinois still loses: As noted above, I expect Wisconsin to completely shut down the Illini rushing attack. That, plus n early lead for Wisconsin, will force Illinois into a pass-first type of offense even more so than usual. Despite Wisconsin’s good defensive statistics, Wes Lunt is the type of quarterback who will have time to make good reads and carve up the Wisconsin secondary at times. Wisconsin will stop most of these from going for scores, and that will make the difference as Illinois fails to turn most of those big passing yard drives into points.

5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)

Andy: Wisconsin 38-17 (61-14 overall; 33-41 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 31-17 (61-14 overall; 40-33 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 30-13 (55-20 overall; 43-30 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 34-17 (59-16 overall; 45-28 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 21-17 (16-6 overall; 8-11 ATS) *joined in Week 5

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Badgers football

Badgers fall victim to the trap, lose to Illinois

Published

on

This is why they don’t play the games on paper. On paper, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers should have been able to make quick work of a struggling Illinois Fighting Illini team.

Instead, it was a slog for the Badgers offense and Illinois took advantage of three turnovers for 17 points en route to a shocking 24-23 victory.

With the Badgers driving to potentially salt away a hard-fought victory, Jack Coan threw just his second interception of the season and Illinois drove the ball deep in to Wisconsin territory and kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.

Wisconsin’s usually rugged run game was off, and the stingy run defense was far from that. Yes, Jonathan Taylor went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career on the first carry of the game, but he would put up just 132 yards on 28 carries on the day and UW’s defense allowed a season-worst 141 yards on the ground to Illinois.

Prior to this game, Wisconsin’s worst performance on offense was 97 yards against Northwestern.

Taylor’s struggles included a brutal turnover, as he gained a first down at the Illinois 17-yard line but coughed up the football trying to fight for extra yardage a third time on the play.

Illinois drove the ball down for a touchdown in just 1:19 of game time and what could’ve been a three-score game turned in to a 23-21 lead with 5:53 to play.

Wisconsin drove the ball past midfield on the next possession appearing poised to put the game out of Illinois reach again, but stumbled near midfield.

On a 2nd and 11, Coan attempted to drop a pass to Jake Ferguson in between the zone. However, Tony Adams had backed off the underneath and picked off the pass at the Illinois 47-yard line.

From there, Illinois ripped off big run after big run to get themselves in to field goal range and the rest was history.

Ironically, it was Coan who powered the Badgers offense for most of the day, throwing for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passing.

Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown combined for 153 yards on the day for the Illini on 28 carries, and came up huge when they needed it as the game went on.

Illinois outplayed the Badgers up front on both sides of the ball and deserved this win.

This was easily the most shocking loss in the Paul Chryst era and a date with Ohio State looms large if Wisconsin wants to continue to hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

A loss next week and all control of their own destiny goes out the window.

Continue Reading

Badgers football

Badgers mid-season report card: Defense

Published

on

As Saturday’s game against Illinois inches closer to kick, it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers season.

UW is 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country in both polls (if you want to care about those things). So, how did Wisconsin get here and who has been vital to all of that success so far?

Well, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season for you. Earlier this week we took a look at our grades for the Badgers offense. Today, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line: A+

One of the biggest question marks coming in to the 2019 season was the UW defensive line. With no Olive Sagapolu and two starting defensive ends coming off of major injuries, how would this group look in 2019? Well, the answer is pretty damn good.

Bryson Williams, the starting nose guard, went down with a bad injury early in the season and in stepped true freshman Keannu Benton, who ripped off back-to-back performances that were rated No. 1 on the team by Pro Football Focus.

Isaiahh Loudermilk had a small injury early on and has been very good since his return, while Garrett Rand is doing work on the other side. Perhaps the biggest story is that this group has been disruptive in a major way.

We’ve had Matt Henningsen score a touchdown not once, but twice and the defensive linemen have racked up 3.0 sacks to date. Not too bad for a group of unproven, but talented players.

Linebackers: A+

Another big question mark coming in to the year was if the Badgers could get enough pressure from its linebacker group to make a difference in 2019. Last season was a dramatic drop off in sacks and tackles from loss as a team, but there has been no such issue in 2019. j

Zack Baun has been one of the best players in the country through the halfway point of the season. He’s put up 26 tackles, has one pick-six, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks (tied for 8th nationally) through the first six games of the season.

It’s earned him Pro Football Focus mid-season first-team All-American honors. Considering he didn’t produce at nearly this level last season, it’s been a huge start for the senior.

On the opposite side of him, we’ve seen the combination of Izayah Green-May (missed time with a broken thumb) and Noah Burks become dangerous players in their own right. As a team, Wisconsin has put up 23 sacks through six games, which is more than they had in all of 2018 (19.0).

Jack Sanborn has been great and the pairing of him with Chris Orr has unleashed one of the most athletic and dangerous combinations of inside linebackers the Badgers have had since switching to the 3-4 defense when Gary Andersen arrived.

You could not draw up a more productive start to a season from a linebacker group if you tried.

Secondary: A

If you just go by the stats, it is hard to argue that Wisconsin isn’t playing some of its best ball against the pass that we’ve ever seen. I mean, they have allowed a Big Ten low three passing touchdowns and the team has eight overall interceptions, with two going for a defensive touchdown.

But, some of the stats can be misleading, especially those eight interceptions. The good news for the secondary is that five of the eight interceptions are attributed to the defensive backs, with starting safety Eric Burrell picking off a pair of passes.

It isn’t just the starting group that has held up well either. Wisconsin has had a next man up mentality and it has worked well. Colin Wilder and John Torchio stepped up when both Burell and fellow safety Reggie Pearson got tossed for hits to the head against Michigan.

Deron Harrell is credited with four pass breakups and Wilder with five to lead the secondary group in that category.

Overall, it’s hard to pick apart this group, but if there’s one area to watch it is their inconsistency in intermediate and deep balls. Luckily, most offenses don’t have enough time to set up a deep passing game so it hasn’t been much of a worry at all.

Overall: A+

Let’s just go over these stats given up by the Badgers defense once again:

4.8 points per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
44.6 rushing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
129.0 passing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
173.7 total yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally

In fact, Wisconsin’s 173.7 total yards per game given up is 60.3 yards per game better than the next best team — Ohio State — has given up this year.

Given all of that information, how could it not be an A+ so far this season? After all, Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1962 Minnesota Gophers team to pitch four shutouts in the first six games of a season.

Enough said.

Continue Reading

Badgers football

Badgers mid-season report card: Offense

Published

on

Believe it or not, but we have already reached the middle of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football season. I know, it doesn’t seem possible because there seems to be so much football ahead.

You would be right, what with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota still looming large on the schedule and all.

But, as we want to look forward, we need to know the foundation that future has been built on. How have the Badgers faired so far in 2019? Let’s take a look position by position.

Offensive Line: A –

All seems to be rosy for the Badgers offensive line. They’ve given up a Big Ten-low of eight sacks and are the No. 2 rushing attack in the league, trailing only Ohio State. While you could say the Buckeyes have yet to face a real defense, they still are consistently putting up better numbers than Wisconsin has.

We’ll see if that holds up, but on the whole it is hard to argue that this group hasn’t been very good. They’ve dealt with a few injuries and haven’t really missed a beat for the most part.

If there’s one area that has put them from an A to an A- in my book, it is their performance in the run game against Northwestern and Michigan State at home. In both cases, Jonathan Taylor really struggled to get going and the offensive line found themselves back on their heels quite a bit. Thus, Taylor’s struggles.

Yes, both Northwestern and MSU are very good defensive fronts, but if you want to earn the top grades, you have to win more than they did up front against those two defensive lines. That’s especially worrisome when you see the defensive fronts that both Ohio State and Iowa can put out there.

This unit is very athletic and certainly can do some special things. But, it needs to be more consistent against high level defenses if the Badgers want to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Not having a single member of this group on the Pro Football Focus mid-season All-American list tells me this group hasn’t been as good as potentially then can be by the end of the year.

Running Backs: B

Yes, Jonathan Taylor is a Pro Football Focus and everywhere else mid-season All-American and yes, he’s en route to break all sorts of historical marks, but there’s more to this group than Taylor and for that reason we have to give this group an overall grade of B.

In fact, if you were to take Taylor away from this position group, you would be far lower on the grade. Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson has picked up 53 carries for just 238 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. While that average isn’t bad, Watson hasn’t shown any flashes of being the next big star running back at Wisconsin with ample opportunities to do so.

Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek haven’t been big factors in the Badgers run game either and Julius Davis appears headed for a complete redshirt. What happens if Taylor goes down? There hasn’t been anyone producing at a high enough level to give us confidence that it’ll just be “next man up” as we’ve seen year over year over year at UW since 1990.

John Chenal and Mason Stokke (pre-injury) have been very good fullbacks in the traditional Wisconsin mold, but they could be a bit better at their blocking technique and that will come with time on the field as both are younger options at fullback.

Overall, this group is doing well, I just downgrade for a lack of a second dynamic option at running back so far this year.

Tight Ends: B+

Much was expected out of junior tight end Jake Ferguson, so much so that many believed he would showcase himself and leave for the NFL after this season. After six games, I’m not so sure that is going to happen.

Yes, Ferguson is second on the team with 15 receptions, but he’s averaging 11 yards a catch and has just one touchdown to his name. Those numbers pace far behind last season.

There just seems to be something missing from the explosive player we saw in 2018, who caught 36 passes for over 450 yards and had four touchdowns to his name.

On the bright side, Ferguson has become a more reliable blocker and that could be the thing that gets him to the NFL a year early. We’ll see what happens the second half of the season though.

As for the rest of the group, it’s been hard to grade because injuries have piled up and not a single other tight end as caught a pass for the Badgers so far this season. So, when I look at Ferguson’s play, it’s hard to not give him a solid grade, but room for improvement and impact in the second half.

Wide Receivers: B-

There is no doubt that getting Quintez Cephus back in a Badgers uniform has been huge. But, with that said, this group has not produced the big plays we’d hope to see after a few years of experience for names like Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.

Cephus is the only receiver with a touchdown to his name, albeit there have only been eight passing touchdowns on the season. However, the leading TD man is running back Jonathan Taylor, who has four already this year.

Pryor came up big against Michigan State and overall this group has produced well when given the opportunity. But, the inability to get separation and thus stretch the defense holds them back.

Maybe the coaching staff is also holding back what we see from this group, as by-in-large, UW hasn’t had to open up the full offense to win a game this season.

Quarterback: A –

Alright, it’s time for Badgers nation to eat some crow here. Everyone thought that Coan was the second-coming of Alex Hornibrook after his first efforts last season. But, through the first six games, Coan has been anything but the second-coming of Hornibrook. In fact, you could say he’s been the anti-Hornibrook.

He’s been clutch, he’s making the smart decisions and he’s keeping drives alive. Doing that at Wisconsin, with the best running back in college football, is exactly what is needed.

Coan is completing a ridiculous 76.3 percent of his passes, which leads the league and is second nationally only to Joe Burrow at LSU. Now, he has only thrown for 1,119 yards (8th in the B1G) and you could say that isn’t great, but consider how he’s become a complementary piece to the run game and you can see why his efficiency and clutch play matters more.

Additionally, his eight touchdowns to just one interception ratio is phenomenal. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the only other starter in the Big Ten that has thrown just one pick through the halfway point of the season.

I wanted to give a higher grade, but Coan has struggled to hit the deep ball at times and seems most comfortable hitting the seven to 15-yard passes. That’s fine, but having someone to really stretch a defense out of eight-man boxes would be nice.

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Coan has established himself as the rightful starter and put to bed most of the critics by becoming the go-to force in the win over Michigan State after a shaky couple of weeks against Michigan and Northwestern.

Having three multiple-touchdown games given what Jonathan Taylor is doing on the ground is impressive through six games.

Continue Reading

Badgers football

Defense leads Badgers to win over Northwestern

Published

on

It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers took down reigning West division champions, the Northwestern Wildcats just the same.

UW’s defense came up big in the 24-15 victory. What happened, which players were the highlights and what needs to be worked on as the 4-0 Badgers go out of conference next week?

Our publisher, Andrew Coppens, comes to you with his full recap of UW’s win.

Don’t forget to subscribe, hit that notifications bell and you’ll never miss a single video the rest of the year!

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Trending

© 2019 Facere Media. This site is not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, it's athletic department or any other university entity. It is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only and is no way associated with the NCAA, the Big Ten or any member institutions.