Happy Homecoming week, y'all! It's been a long two weeks without Fighting Illini football, but we're just two days away from watching the team take the field in their #hot 'Gray Ghost' uniforms. Andrew Rosin from Bucky's 5th Quarter has stopped by to help preview the matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers. Let's give him a warm welcome!
1. Wisconsin (5-2) has been flying a bit under the radar in comparison to the past few years. The Badgers' only losses are against two Playoff contenders in Alabama and Iowa, but it almost seems as if they're being ignored on both conference and national levels. Do you feel the same?
Andrew: Honestly, they are under the radar, but it's not a scenario where it's a how dare you ignore the great and mighty Wisconsin Badgers. Could the Badgers be ranked? Sure. But this isn't a team that hits the big plays as much as it has in previous seasons and Iowa looks like a team that's not going to lose twice the rest of the way. So no highlight plays and a minimal chance of making the conference title game equals somewhat ignored.
2. What's your opinion of Paul Chryst as a head coach so far? Is he meeting expectations to this point?
Andrew: I was one who was in the not super-excited but pretty okay with the hire camp. Record-wise, I'm sure most Badger fans expected 6-1 by now, but the Badgers are fine where they stand. He's definitely been more of an ace recruiter than everyone assumed going in. As season one's go, it's a solid B-plus.
3. The numbers indicate that Wisconsin's offense is, well, very Wisconsin-like this year, but there are some new faces on that side of the ball. Who are the playmakers that Illini fans need to keep an eye on?
Andrew: Joel Stave is leading the Big Ten in passing yards in conference play. This is through the looking glass bizarro world stuff. There are questions on if you'll see Corey Clement or Taiwan Deal, but Dare Ogbunwale is likely going to be the running back of choice. He was a cornerback to start last season, but he flashes good speed and has the hands to be viable in the passing game.
Receiving wise, you do know Alex Erickson, but the physical gifts of Robert Wheelwright are starting to translate into on the field play. The hands can be wonky, but when he's right, he can make spectacular plays. Jazz Peavy's a good threat in space and you do need to pay attention when he's on the field. Oh, and tight end Troy Fumagalli has 13 catches in the month of October after being injured pretty much all September. The preseason breakout candidate's flashing the skills that were expected.
4. What about the defensive playmakers? S&P+ has the unit pegged at No. 7 nationally entering Week 8.
Andrew: The playmaker question begins with Joe Schobert. Second nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. He's the leader of a less experienced, but up to the recent standards of linebackers that the Badgers have sent out there. Vince Biegel hasn't had as many opportunities to make plays as he did last year, but don't ignore him. He'll get to the quarterback if you give him a chance. Chris Orr is playing well for a true freshman, and 44 of team leader in tackles redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards 54 tackles have come against power five schools.
I know Illinois passing game has been rolling too, but the Badgers have a veteran secondary with Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton as corners who have flashed the ability to shut down receivers, and while Tanner McEvoy hasn't been needed as much as was once thought on offense? He's still a centerfielder that causes match-up nightmares. And Michael Caputo? Goes without saying he plays well in the secondary.
5. What's your opinion of Illinois heading into this game? Do you envision the Illini giving the Badgers much trouble on either side of the ball?
Andrew: I figured Illinois was going to be decent with literally anyone else coaching them. The passing game hasn't missed a beat without Mike Dudek. The defense has been bumpy, but generally good. You have an outside shot at getting to one of those January 1 bowl games against an SEC team. The question of trouble would probably come with the Badgers passing game. Illinois can get interceptions along with limiting passing yards. If Stave has a bad day, he'll throw picks in bunches. So yeah, you can win this one.
6. What's your prediction for Saturday's matchup? Keep in mind, Illinois is undefeated when wearing the ‘Gray Ghost' uniforms.
Andrew: Illinois usually will play above their station when they play Wisconsin. I do think the Badgers will be in a situation where they aren't going going to win merely by showing up. But while Illinois covers, Badgers win 21-17.
Thank you again to Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions! For more on Wisconsin, make sure to follow Bucky's 5th Quarter on Twitter. You can also check out their website for news and updates ahead of the game.