It’s going to be a tough game for the Illini on Saturday, as they welcome the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers to town for Homecoming. Let’s take a look at some ways the Illini can try and keep the game against the No. 6 team in the country close:
Get the ball out quickly
The Wisconsin Badgers are officially back. It’s quite funny, because my interpretation of Badger fans (now that I live in hostile territory of Madison, Wisconsin) was that expectations were low coming into this season. Hornibrook, although he was a thorn in most Badger fans’ side, was an experienced starter lost to the transfer market. Coming off an 8-5 season, where Wisconsin was just 5-4 in the B1G and defense seemed lackluster, I think few would have imagined the boys in red beating down Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team and having four shutouts through six games. Not too shabby.
Anyway, the defense is good. That’s the point here. If Matt Robinson is starting (which would be preferable, Lovie) Rod should utilize lots of quick outs and slants to Imatorbhebhe and Ricky. Maybe throw in a few RPOs and get Matt running. The last thing this offense needs is to sit back and try to heave the ball deep - our QB will get demolished. Rod’s offense works best with quick hits, and Wisconsin gets after the quarterback. Let’s be clear: the Badgers have given up an average of 4.83 points per game and only ONE touchdown in six games this year. Get the ball out quickly and utilize the running game.
Contain Jonathan Taylor
This won’t be easy. Taylor will be another top vote-getter for the Heisman this year, as he should be. He is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and already has 18 (!) touchdowns this year. He had 16 all of last year. Yeah, I would say this team is improved. In addition, Taylor has already outpaced his last two seasons in terms of receiving yards and has become a threat out of the backfield. Jack Coan has found him through the air for an additional four touchdowns.
I’m not defensive scheme expert, but if Austin Clark and Lovie could do something to keep Taylor from gashing the defensive line and outrunning Jake Hansen and Dele Harding at the second level, that would be great. In addition, it would put more pressure on Jack Coan to make throws, which was an issue he had against Northwestern. It doesn’t mean we will win, but if they can hold Taylor to 100 yards on the ground then perhaps the Illini can keep it close.
GIVE. THE. BALL. TO. REGGIE.
Obviously, Reggie is the guy defenses have honed in on the most this year. He missed a game early on in the season and has 396 rushing yards (around 6 yards per carry), but is not on pace to match last year’s 1,000-plus yard season. However, he is by far the most talented individual skill player. He needs touches - I don’t care if its a draw, a stunt, or a swing pass. Get him the ball. If I recall, he may have had one or two good plays against the Badgers last year:
That might be my favorite play of the past several years, other than Steve Hull’s touchdown while laying on his back against Northwestern.
The takeaway here: give the ball to your best player as much as possible.
Can we change up the defense?
“Can we change up the defense?” is a rhetorical question. I know it won’t happen. I knew it wouldn’t happen when Lovie hired his son as linebackers coach and refused to hire a defensive coordinator who could actually utilize guys like Marquez Beason and Nate Hobbs to prevent opposing offenses from putting up 700-plus yards (see Nebraska game). If everything went the right way, I think these team could have a chance. Is Wisconsin more talented? Yes, I think so. The defense is one of the best in the country. But Jack Coan is no Russell Wilson, and Wisconsin is no Alabama. A well-coached Illini team could make this game close. Unfortunately, I do not think that will happen. I think the Illini will lose by three scores or more.
At this rate, this may be Lovie’s last homecoming.