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Scouting Report: Illinois at Wisconsin

Illinois and Wisconsin are both coming off of blowout losses. How do the Illini and Badgers pick up the pieces and respond?

Wisconsin v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Last weekend. October 13, 2018. Illinois falls to Purdue at home 46-7. Wisconsin loses to Michigan in primetime 38-13. Illinois was a 10-point underdog to the Boilermakers and against Wisconsin this weekend, the Illini are 25-point underdogs as they head to Madison.

The 2018 Wisconsin Badgers look a lot like Wisconsin teams of the past: They attack teams on the ground with a prolific running back and the best offensive line in the conference.

Wisconsin has won the last eight against Illinois, and the Illini’s last win was in 2007 during the Rose Bowl campaign. The last time Illinois beat Wisconsin on the road in Madison was in 2002. Wisconsin still holds the keys to a Big Ten West crown, and they’ll be taking the Illini seriously on Homecoming Weekend.


Force Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook to throw:

To anyone who watched the Wisconsin/Michigan game last weekend, QB Alex Hornibrook is capable of having a very bad game. Against the Wolverines, Hornibrook went 7-for-20 with one garbage-time touchdown pass and two interceptions. The Michigan student section was tauntingly chanting “Hornibrooook..... Hornibrooook....” teasing him and mocking him, as it seemed the experienced Badgers quarterback was in his own head in what was his worst career performance.

Will Hornibrook repeat that performance against Illinois this Saturday? No. Illinois’ defense isn’t as good as Michigan’s, and Hornibrook will be back in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium.

Jonathan Taylor will get his. That’s (somewhat) OK and what Badgers are built on:

Jonathan Taylor is the best running back in all of college football. Wisconsin could theoretically hand the ball off to Taylor every single play without Hornibrook attempting a single pass, and the Illini could still lose. Think Army/West Point Football.

Traditionally, Love Smith runs a conservative defense out of fear of a quarterback throwing a bomb over the top of the safeties and giving up the big play. Smith and Hardy Nickerson have to be willing to let the big play happen in order to stack the box and try to stop Jonathan Taylor.

Against Purdue, Illinois was dreadfully bad against the run. The Boilers’ top two running backs — Markell Jones and DJ Knox — each averaged at least 8.0 yards per rush. If Illinois lets Jonathan Taylor average 8.0 yards per rush — and he and his offensive line are more than capable of doing that — Illinois will suffer another blowout loss to another Big Ten West team.

Watch For Jet-Sweeps:

Offensively, Wisconsin really doesn’t try to trick its opponents. They telegraph what they are going to do and they don’t deviate from their bread-and-butter of running the football.

A wrinkle Wisconsin showed against Michigan — and one that worked for a touchdown — was a jet-sweep left to wide receiver Kendric Pryor. Pryor has a ton of speed, and while Michigan was lured into trying to stack the middle of the field in hopes of stopping Jonathan Taylor, Pryor found a wide open lane on the outside for a touchdown.

The Illinois defense was wary of jet-sweeps to Purdue speedster Rondale Moore last week. It needs to do the same for Wisconsin’s receivers this week.


Let Mike Epstein power-run, irregardless of Reggie Corbin’s health:

Illinois a good running football team, but against Purdue, Lovie and Rod Smith’s young men looked out of their element. Just six rushes for Reggie Corbin (yes, he got banged up), and just one rushing attempt for Mike Epstein.

In RPO’s, AJ Bush has a tendency to pull the ball down and run himself — which didn’t really work against Purdue. Illinois has to trust its running backs. It’s okay to get three, four yards up the middle on first and second down. In a sense, try to beat Wisconsin at their own game and try to keep Wisconsin’s offense off of the field.

Too many dropped passes against Purdue — tighten that up

Home blowouts to Purdue don’t just happen on a whim. It has to be an “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” situation. Count the dropped passes among the many things that went wrong last week against the Boilers. Louis Dorsey. Ricky Smalling. These guys are weapons the Illini have (in Dorsey’s case, had) and must come up big for the Illini to have a chance at winning games.

Details matter. Fundamentals matter. That’s what makes teams like Alabama and Clemson so dominant — of course talent matters a lot, but talent doesn’t amount to anything on gamedays unless the details are executed flawlessly.

Illinois will need a flawless game in order to hang with the Big Ten West’s best in Wisconsin on Saturday.

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