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

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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

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What the Badgers need to work on in the bye week

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Two games, two victories, two shutouts and two record-setting performance. It would be easy to think the 2-0 Wisconsin Badgers football team is riding high in to its early bye week.

But, with the challenge of the Michigan Wolverines just around the corner things are not exactly going to go as planned.

So, with a week off to prepare what are some of the areas of concentration and concern heading in to the matchup with the Wolverines?

Get Healthy

I feel like this is a mantra of any team on a bye week, but after only two games it shouldn’t be that bad. But, guess what, Wisconsin is two games in to the season and the injury gods have not been kind to this team.

On Sunday, we learned that starting safety Scott Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

Late last week we knew that five other players were going to miss the Central Michigan game, with two of those being starters on defense in Bryson Williams and Izayah Green-May.

Now luckily, the depth of this team showed up as true freshman Keeanu Benton (1 TFL) played well in place of Williams and Noah Burks (2 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break up) made it seem like there was nothing missing at outside linebacker.

But, there’s no question that playing with a full group of players against Michigan will be advantageous. Let’s see if the Badgers can get Williams and Green-May healthy and my guess is that they will be able to do just that with nearly three weeks of treatment and testing.

Stay Hungry

One of the things that has been clear so far about this team is that they have been playing with a lot of emotion and edge to them. It’s almost as if they spent an entire offseason stewing over a less-than-stellar performance in 2018 and are bound and determined to not let that happen again.

Whatever was bottled up in the offseason was certainly unleashed in the first two weeks of the season. Can UW find a way to continue to play with that edge and fire now that they have no game this week?

Sometimes the bye week can mess with a team, especially one that is rolling like the Badgers are. But, I have a distinct feeling that motivation and focus are not going to waver at all with this coaching staff in place.

Wisconsin also has the advantage of being the underdog in the matchup with Michigan (at least on paper it will) and has a ton of hungry young players looking to make a name for themselves.

What better way to do that than against Michigan with the whole college football world watching you?

This idea of staying hungry doesn’t worry me in the least, but it would be something to watch coming out of the gate against Michigan. If the Badgers look flat or out of sorts, I’d be worried. If not, then look for Michigan to be in some serious trouble on Sept. 21.

New Wrinkles?

Early on this season, we’ve already seen a lot of Jonathan Taylor the running back, but we’ve also seen a lot of JT23 the receiving back and it has produced glorious results.

Even better is the fact that the Badgers coaching staff hasn’t had to get exotic with the play calling early on this season either. There’s been few sightings of Aron Cruickshank end arounds or double running back sets or anything crazy.

Wisconsin has lined up, punched the opposing defense in the mouth up front and done the basics needed to put points on the board.

It will be interesting to see what wrinkles will be added with the extra time and the opponent at hand. Will the Badgers break out a few things that Michigan won’t be ready for or will they stick to the tried and true and just see what happens?

Pass Protection

If there’s one thing we know about Michigan’s defense is that it is nearly the Badgers equal in aggressiveness. Through two games the Badgers have allowed four sacks on the quarterback.

It may not seem alarming, but last season, UW allowed a total of 24 through 13 games for an average of 1.85 per game and that was a bit of a problem in bigger games. Furthermore, 12 of the 24 sacks came in Wisconsin’s five losses last year.

The good news seems to be that UW is going to get some help for the quarterback spot in avoiding some of those sacks this year. Jack Coan may not be a world-record sprinter, but he has shown to be more comfortable stepping up in the pocket and taking off if needed.

But, the Badgers were not really tested so far in terms of overall talent and did give up three sacks against USF in the opener. On the flip side, the offensive line looked much better against CMU and only one sack happened on the day.

Does that indicate improvement or just how bad the Chippewas were? With an extra week to work on things, lets see how the Badgers offensive line works through any potential issues and any adjustments that may be needed.

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Sunday Morning Hangover: What to make of Coan’s confident start

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By now, Jack Coan isn’t a total newcomer to the starting quarterback role for the Wisconsin Badgers. But, on Saturday he was making his first career start inside Camp Randall Stadium.

All five of his previous starts would come on the road or in a bowl game.

So, how did Coan handle the home crowd and it being a season opener at Camp Randall nonetheless? Judging by his record-setting numbers it was safe to say it was home, sweet home for the junior quarterback.

After passing for over 200 yards for the first time in his career last week against USF, Coan set personal records for passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes in a single game.

It’s hard to get much better than that.

On the day, Coan would go 26 of 33 for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers were the catalyst to the Badgers 61-0 blanking of the visiting Central Michigan Chippewas.

His 363 yards were the fifth best in a single game by any Badgers quarterback. Coan also became just the 11th Badgers QB to throw for 300 or more yards in a game.

Additionally, his 276 yards in the first half were the most ever by any Badgers quarterback in a single half.

That’s some historic territory for anyone to reach.

However, after sleeping on it, I am still left wondering if this is a sign of things to come or a blip on the radar and we’ll never see this again.

Maybe it’s because I can still remember being there in person to witness Coan fumble and bumble his way to a loss at Northwestern last year.

Maybe that’s the Hornibrook affect in me too? After all, we got totally burned by thinking Hornibrook had turned a corner with his great performance in the bowl win over Miami two years ago.

Instead, Hornibrook reverted right back to the inconsistent and at times terrible version that his more extensive body of work told us was likely who he was.

But, here’s why I think we aren’t seeing a blip on the radar with Coan. It’s his confidence and the fact that we’ve seen him go out and do better each and every week he’s been a starter.

We are seeing progress, which we never really did with Hornibrook under center. If you can’t see that Coan is improving, then you aren’t paying attention.

Last week, despite the first ever 200-yard day for Coan, a lot of attention was paid to the missed wide open receivers on vertical routes. What did Coan do about it? He went out this week and showed he could confidently and accurately hit those deep balls.

“I think it’s important, and certainly we’ve got to be able to — we thought coming into the year we’ve got to do a better job of attacking the whole field, and so when you can do that, it’s good, but I think guys have had confidence in it,” said head coach Paul Chryst after the CMU win.

“I know last week we were 0-2 for those “chunk” plays, but he wouldn’t have cut ’em loose today if he didn’t have confidence in it. So I don’t know that doing it in a game makes you more confident, but it was good to see. It’s nice to be able to hit a couple of those, obviously.”

Additionally, Coan’s relationship early on this season with Quintez Cephus has been something special to watch. With virtually no playing time and no extensive practice time together, the duo has seemed totally in sync to start the season.

Cephus has nine receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns through two games. He also is averaging 84.5 yards per game, good for fifth in the Big Ten in this early season.

Just to put the difference between Coan and Honribrook in to some perspective for you. Through two games last year, the Badgers had just 26 receptions as a team. This year, UW already has 50.

Wisconsin also has a total of 16 passes for 15 or more yards on the season. That is a quarter of what the Badgers had (64) all of last year and we’re only two games in to the season.

A.J. Taylor (8), Danny Davis (6), Kendric Pryor (6) and Jake Ferguson (6) have all had major impacts in the pass game too.

It means a diverse and talented group is producing quickly this season.

Of course, the challenge of Michigan’s defense awaits the Badgers offense and it certainly will be a step up in competition from the likes of USF and Central Michigan.

However, the Wolverines also won’t be seeing the same old Wisconsin offense they did for the past few years either.

What Coan has brought to the table through two weeks of play should make Michigan think twice about stacking the box against the run all game long.

Wisconsin finally has an outwardly confident quarterback and it feels so very good.

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WATCH: Recap of Badgers 61-0 victory over Central Michigan

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If you were to draw up a perfect game, well, it would be hard to top what the Wisconsin Badgers put on film on Saturday against the Central Michigan Chippewas.

UW ran, passed and dominated on defense en route to a 61-0 win. What should we take away from this game? What were the highlight moments?

Well of course, Jonathan Taylor scoring four touchdowns in back-to-back games was impressive. But, let our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, get in to the detail in this week’s talkinBadgers recap.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube page, so you don’t miss any of our video work as the season goes on!

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Central Michigan Chippewas: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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We’re back with more in our video work for the Badgers 2019 season. As per usual, our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, is here to give you the lowdown on the matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and Central Michigan Chippewas.

That means, key players to watch, key stats to keep an eye on and the weekly prediction.

He is 1-0 after nearly nailing the full score last week, so what does this matchup look like?

Let’s get in to the video.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel so you don’t miss a single prediction or post-game reaction for your pleasure.

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