Wisconsin was supposed to use their talented rushing tandem of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement to blow past the Illini defense on every play; Illinois was supposed to have a few good offensive drives with a few talented flashes from Josh Ferguson and Mike Dudek -- and, generally, this is how the game went.
After last weeks loss to Purdue, Illinois' season has gone south quickly. Starting quarterback Wes Lunt will be out for 4-6 weeks after a leg fracture. If we're unable to beat the Boilermakers, formerly the worst team in the B1G, who can we beat? This year's hopes have already faded. Talk amongst fans has already turned towards the next head coach and thoughts of basketball are slipping past the subconscious and into conversations. However, there are still games to be played before we can get to either of those.
The game started with Wisconsin taking six plays to rush 80 yards, all on the ground, scoring in under three minutes, but Illinois didn't go down easily. Both the offense and the defense gave solid efforts throughout the game.
After that first drive, the Illinois defense produced two consecutive 3-and-outs by cramming 8, 9, or even 10 men into the box. Illinois was daring quarterback Joel Stave to throw. They knew their chances were better against his average quarterback talents than with Gordon's All-World skills. But Wisconsin started to use play-action passes, forcing the Illini to cover both the pass and the run, spreading out the defenders all across the field -- this became their undoing.
The Illini defense doesn't have the talent to keep up with the Badgers offense. Gordon and Clement combined for 339 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per rush, and 5 touchdowns (Gordon: 27 for 175 (6.5) and 4 TD's, Clement: 13 for 164 (12.6) and 1 TD). In all honesty though, Illinois defense put in a valiant effort. The D-line is still non-existent and arms are still the primary method of tackling, but there were times when the play calling was adequate and the attitude was vastly improved -- at one point they were tied 14-14 and it almost felt like there was a chance to keep the game competitive. If the Illini defense would've played like this last week, they likely would've won that game.
The Illinois offense, led by senior backup QB Reilly O'Toole, were less than special, especially the O-line. They allowed 6 sacks on the day, and nary a running lane to be found by Ferguson. He finished the day with 33 yards on 11 carries. It's been a major disappointment to see how little he has done on the year -- he's got talent, but doesn't have the time, space, or carries to really make much of a difference. The entire offense produced 174 offensive yards until the end of the 3rd quarter, but the yardage shouldn't be what should be talked about. What should be discussed is what happened next.
See, at the start of the 4th quarter, head coach Tim Beckman did something that will affect the football program in the years to come, even though he probably won't be here to see it. Beckman sent out Aaron Bailey, a 4-star quarterback recruit, who hasn't played at all this year in order to preserve his redshirt status. Then, in the course of one meaningless quarter, the redshirt was gone. Beckman might not have had a choice in the matter, O'Toole was looking pretty wobbly during the previous drive, but Bailey's college career will now likely end in 2016, the same year that Lunt leaves the program.
Bailey came in showing why he earned the 4-star ranking. He was able to outrush the rest of his Illini teammates by gaining 75 yards and a touchdown in the final quarter. He's good, but the problem now becomes why didn't Beckman use him before now? My guess is that O'Reilly really was hurt enough to not go back into the game, otherwise Beckman wouldn't burn the redshirt. Player health is more important than 2017 senior quarterbacks.
In the end, Wisconsin won just as expected. It was a predictable, and therefore forgettable, game, except for Bailey getting into the game. The Illini now go into their first bye week preparing for Minnesota on homecoming weekend.