Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

Dissecting the Season: B1G Football against Illinois


Last week we started a series of in-depth looks at the upcoming B1G football season.

We looked at 5 key factors — past performances, offensive matchup, defensive matchup, freshman impact, and home field advantage —  that covered the bases in the West division, plus Maryland and Rutgers.

The overall season will kickoff with the Badgers facing off against LSU (SEC) in Houston, followed by home games against Western Illinois (Missouri Valley Conference), Bowling Green (MAC) and South Florida (American), all before its first B1G challenge at Northwestern.

The next game on the schedule is …

Week 7, October 11: Home against Illinois

Past Performances

Illinois had a rough go in the Leaders Division last year. The No. 25 Badgers traveled down to Champaign and won 56-32 on Oct. 19. The game wasn’t close, no matter what analysts said about the Illini dropping 32 on Wisconsin.  Melvin Gordon ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns, James White added 98 yards and two touchdowns, and even Corey Clement found the end zone. The aerial attack didn’t even need to be on point, but there was still Joel Stave going 16-21 for 189 yards with two TDs, 106 yards went to Jared Abbrederis, with White and Brian Wozniak catching the scoring throws.

Wisconsin has not lost to Illinois since Oct. 6, 2007, when the Badgers dropped a 31-26 decision. In the four games played since then, the Badgers have outscored Illinois 142-80.

Offensive Matchup

Gordon will be a force, so will Clement. Whomever Gary Andersen decides will be his starting quarterback will get touches in this game, but like last year will not be relied upon.

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

I like Clement to make his name be known in this game. It’ll probably be a weird jersey day so what better chance for something good to happen to take our minds off of the new Oregon of the Heartland.

There isn’t much to say about Illinois’ defense, except that they are really trying to get better in a hurry. The Illini have scheduled Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, Washington and Texas State before heading into the B1G football season, which starts with Nebraska. Purdue is their last stepping stone until Wisconsin, and coach Tim Beckman would sure like to know if his defense can play just half as good as his offense.

According to the ESPN 2014 Football Power Index, the Wisconsin offense is ranked at 18, while the Illinois defense is a few more scrolls down at No. 71. It just hasn’t been in the team’s nature to produce big names on defense. Illinois had 14 total sacks last season. Five from Jonathan Brown and three-and-a-half sacks from Houston Bates. Brown is gone so even if Tanner McEvoy or Stave get into any trouble, it’s going to come from inside their own minds, and not from the Illini front seven.

That leaves V’Angelo Bentley as the most dangerous man. Bentley is a defensive back that can return kicks. If any issue can plague the Badgers this year, it could be Bentley taking back a kickoff or punt.

Defensive Matchup

Nathan Scheelhaase is out and Wes Lunt is … in? Or could it be Aaron Bailey? Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit must decide his very own quarterback conundrum. Scheelhaase performed as well as he could under the pressures of a rebuilding program. He had 21 touchdowns last season, while Bailey bulldozed the end zone for three.

All of this begs the question, will Lunt, who transferred from Oklahoma State in 2012 and sat out 2013, be the answer this season, especially against the Badgers, whose defensive backs unit is the best part about their defense?

Simply answer is I guess we’ll find out. Lunt will certainly hone his skills from being away from the field against lower-tiered opponents, but Sojourn Shelton will be waiting.

As for the run game, Josh Ferguson ran for nearly 800 yards last season on 141 carries. So no worries there, unless Cubit wants to try and get all those yards against Wisconsin.

Freshman Impact

Illinois currently has 18 recruits to its name in 2014, putting the Illini at No. 66 according to ESPN. Paul James, a 6-foot-2 defensive end from Miami, FL, is the lone four-star recruit, while Geronimo Allison is a JuCo transfer from Iowa Western that could be put into the rotation for Lunt.

Home Field Advanatage

Clearly hosting anyone in Madison this season is a huge advantage for the Badgers. The game will likely be in the daytime, so look for the student section to fill out around halftime. The week 7 game will be the fourth home game in the season, and the crowd should be used to at least a 4-1 record.

The Badgers off on a bye week in Week 8, but Badger of Honor is not. So come back next week as we look at the Week 9 homecoming game against the Maryland Terrapins.


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Tags: Corey Clement Melvin Gordon Sojourn Shelton Tanner McEvoy Wisconsin Badgers