Wisconsin football will look to continue its undefeated season when they travel to Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini this Saturday.
This Wisconsin football team continues to roll through its schedule. Improving to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference and rising to number six in the AP Poll. They have made it look easy up to this point, but the rest of their schedule will be far from that, having to face Ohio State and Iowa in upcoming games.
But before they can think about the big games coming up, the Badgers have to face Illinois (2-4, 0-3) this weekend. This is the epitome of a “trap game” for the Badgers. With big games on the horizon, it’s easy to look past a team that has finished last in the Big Ten West in each of the last two seasons.
While they are still a below-average team, the Fighting Illini are putting up much more of a fight in games this year than years past. Last week, the Illini fell behind early against Michigan but came back within three points in the fourth quarter before stumbling again and losing 42-25. Seeing the Illini have a little fight in them is good for the Big Ten West, which is usually seen as the weaker of the two divisions.
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Illinois is led by former-Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters, but backup quarterback Matt Robinson has also seen some playing time. The last time Wisconsin football faced Peters was in 2017 when Andrew Van Ginkel knocked Peters out of the game, leading to a 24-10 victory for the Badgers.
So far this season, Peters has completed 59 percent of his passes for 797 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He is the key to this Illini offense. The running offense is almost non-existent. Their leading rusher is senior Reggie Corbin, who has 396 yards on just 67 attempts for three touchdowns. If the Illini are going to score, it’s going to be through the air.
The main receivers for Illinois are Josh Imatorbhebhe and Ricky Smalling. Imatorbhebhe is a transfer from USC but has been putting up nice numbers so far this year. He has 322 yards receiving and five touchdowns. He is the home run-hitting receiver of this team, he is averaging over 16 yards per catch. Smalling has more receptions but has just 225 yards and a touchdown.
This Illinois team averages 30.7 points per game, 42nd in the country. They pass for 190.8 yards per game (100th) and run for 147.2 yards per game (74th) for a total of 338.0 yards per game (106th). Overall, not a very prolific offense that this Wisconsin football team should have a good chance to shut down and possibly keep off the scoreboard for the fifth time in seven games this year.
This is an Illinois defense that struggles to keep opponents off the board. They allow 30.7 points per game, 77th in the country. This is a team that gives up a lot of yards. They allow 437.2 yards per game (88th).
A lot of those yards are allowed on the ground. They allow 204.7 (103rd) yards per game on the ground. With Wisconsin football having a lot of success running the ball this season, 11th most in the country, Illinois will have a heck of a challenge ahead of them.
Illinois’ defense is led by the linebacking duo of Dele Harding and Jake Hansen. Harding is the leading tackler on the team with 66 total tackles and also leads the team with two interceptions, one he returned for a touchdown. Hansen has 48 tackles but leads the team in sacks with 2.5. He has forced four fumbles too, three of which he recovered.
The pass defense isn’t a whole lot better. They allow 232.5 passing yards per game (71st). Their secondary has just one of the four interceptions on the team. I think Wisconsin will be able to exploit this Illinois defense through the air as well, especially with how good Jack Coan looked throwing the ball last week against Michigan State.
This Illinois defense relies on getting turnovers, otherwise, they have trouble getting stops. Luckily this Wisconsin football team does a good job of taking care of the ball. Both teams are in the top-20 in turnover margin per game. Wisconsin averages +1.5 turnovers per game (5th), while the Illini average +0.8 turnovers per game (16th).
I think Illinois will try to attack Wisconsin the same way Michigan State did: shutting down the run. Really that’s the only shot they have to stay in this game. The only problem for that is that their front seven is a lot weaker than the Spartans is. I think Jonathan Taylor will get back on track and have yet another huge game that will keep him in the Heisman conversation.
I also think this Wisconsin defense has a chance to be the “Goose Egg Gang” and keep Illinois off the board. Although, if this game gets out of hand early enough, the backups may concede some points, but while the starters are in there, I don’t see this Illinois offense being much of a threat.