THE WHEN AND WHERE
Time: 11:00 AM Central Time - Saturday, October 11th
Place: Camp Randall Stadium - Madison, Wisconsin
TV: ESPN2 - Beth Mowins and Joey Galloway (GUH)
This week, we get our first taste of blue in the Illini's new uniforms. They'll sport a blue helmet and white jerseys/pants this Saturday.
THE INJURY REPORT
#12 Wes Lunt: Out
#28 Jaylen Dunlap: Out
#34 Mike Svetina: Out
#64 Steve Dumezich: Out
#93 Teko Powell: Out
Powell, Dunlap, and Svetina remain out for this week. Lunt is also out, in what's becoming a truly heart-breaking season for the guy. I mean, he just can't catch any breaks.
Well, here we go again folks. Wisconsin has-- you guessed it! --an absolutely fantastic running back who will destroy the hearts and souls of all 50 Illini fans willing to watch this game. And guess what?? They have two of them! Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement would both run for over 200 yards on 20-30 carries against the Illini. Realistically, since they have to share time, it's fair to say that they'll each have 15-20 carries and somewhere between 100 and 400 yards each.
Wisconsin's running game consists mostly of inside and outside zone, the latter of which one can probably expect to see over and over again on Saturday. Illinois really struggled to defend the outside zone play against Nebraska, and I'd expect no different against Wisconsin. They'll also mix in some Power O when they feel like pulling a guard and rocking somebody. Their line is typical of a Wisconsin line-- really good and really large and really old. They are going to dominate Illinois at the point of attack and there's really nothing the coaches or anyone can do about it.
The passing game for Wisconsin is...well it's certainly not good. The depth chart currently lists the starter as Tanner McEvoy OR Joel Stave, which means we may see a two-quarterback system this weekend. Those are always a good time. McEvoy is a much more capable runner than Stave, but has a noodle arm and complete inability to read a defense or really do anything when asked to throw. Plainly, he sucks.
Stave also sucks, but in a slightly different way. He can throw the ball around an average level, but doesn't have the mobility that McEvoy (a converted safety) provides. Stave contracted the yips at the beginning of this year and hasn't played up to the aptitude he showed last season with the team. Whichever quarterback plays Saturday, there shouldn't really be much to fear from this team.
Wisconsin ranks 96th in the country in passing yards per attempt. Then again, so does Washington, and they pretty much lit Illinois up. Wide receiver Alex Erickson has really been the only productive receiver for Wisconsin this year. He's had 25 total receptions for around 60 yards per game, good for 14th in the conference. He's okay. Illinois will probably get beat deep on play action once in this game, and Melvin Gordon is going to run up, down, sideways, and all over the Illini in this game. That's probably all you need to know about the defense at this point.
Wisconsin seems to have a run-of-the-mill, good-not-great Big Ten defense this year. They're allowing 4.86 yards per play, good for 33rd in the country and right around the level of MSU, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Nebraska (all within 10 spots in the rankings). Their run defense has been more potent than their passing defense thus far, with the two units ranked 23rd and 71st in the nation, respectively.
The linebacking corps has replaced three starters without missing a beat. Derek Landisch is the pass-rushing threat out of the bunch, and he will likely dial up a sack or a highlight-reel play. If Marcus Trotter plays, you're likely going to see the smoothest transition from a legend at a position because he's playing Chris Borland's spot. Michael Caputo already has two tackles on the game and you just don't know it yet. Reilly O'Toole will likely complete passes and win hearts with that name, but the linebackers will attack from all sorts of angles and if the defensive line holds up the Badgers will pressure the Illini all day.
So the linebackers for Wisconsin are quite talented, even the back-ups. It sure would be nice if the Illinois defense had that luxury. Something I should have mentioned earlier-- the Wisconsin defense is of the 3-4 variety, so there are four scary linebackers to handle. Typically, 3-4 defenses bring more randomized pressure than 4-3 defenses, because the four linebackers have the ability to blitz and drop into coverage from anywhere on the line. That could result in a lot of confusing pressure for the Illini on Saturday, which means we'll be seeing Reilly O'Toole hit the ground a few times or more. Wisconsin is currently averaging 2.60 sacks per game, tied for 36th in the nation.
In the secondary, safety Michael Caputo and cornerback Darius Hillary lead the Badgers in passes defensed, with three apiece. Caputo is also one of two starting defensive backs with an interception (freshman safety Lubern Figaro has the other). Caputo also leads the team in tackles by a wide, wide margin. It's pretty apparent that this guy will be all over the field on Saturday. Sojourn Shelton is the only unmentioned member of the defensive backfield-- he's a very solid if unspectacular corner.
THE NAME OF THE WEEK
Plenty of candidates on the Wisconsin sideline, which I wasn't expecting. This week, we'll go with defensive end Chikwe Obasih, in a tight victory over men such as Ash Fonjungo, Beau Benzschawel, D'Cota Dixon.
THE #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN UPDATE OF THE WEEK
From two weeks ago: =(
Jake Howe still has yet to make an appearance at fullback. This makes me sad. The saddest, in fact. The #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN Alert System is at #FATCON5 this week. Maybe a defensive tackle will have a pick six or something. Sadness.
THE FIVE KEY POINTS
Stop Contain Limit Delay Prevent-From-Getting-To-The-End-Zone Try Really, Really Hard Against Melvin Gordon.
2. No big plays. I'm looking at you, safeties.
3. Tackle? It seemed like Illinois was in position to make tackles on all of Purdue's big plays, but simply couldn't come through in the moment of truth. They'll need to tackle well to have any chance on Sunday.
4. Convert in the red zone. I went over this ad nauseam in my Statistical Brain Dump recap for the Purdue game, but Illinois has to do better than four-of-eight scoring in the red zone. They won't have nearly that many chances against Wisconsin and they'll have to take advantage of the few opportunities they do get.
5. Don't get embarrassed. I don't have much hope for this one. Just keep it close and don't let anybody get hurt, guys.
I think I pretty much nailed it in three short sentences this week on my CFB betting blogpost with friends:
The only way Illinois covers in this game is if Wisconsin beats themselves with throwing the ball too much and turning the ball over. Illinois would have to pull a Northwestern and win the turnover battle four-to-zero or better to have a shot in this one. I think Wisconsin keeps it on the ground and dominates this one.
Those two things are the only things that could prevent Wisconsin from blowing the doors off in this one. We know Illinois is not going to stop the run, so the question is whether or not Wisconsin feels like winning a game by 30 or more. I'll bet that they're interested in doing so and Melvin Gordon runs for over 200 yards.