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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois vs. Wisconsin

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All of us picking the visitors.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: Wisconsin 59, Illinois 8

In case you didn’t know, I live in Madison now. If I wanted to watch Wisconsin crush a team by 50, I could make the 14-minute walk from my apartment to Camp Randall. Instead, I’ve made the decision to return for Homecoming and drive four hours south to watch Wisconsin kick someone’s ass.

Tristen Kissack: Wisconsin More, Illinois Less

I predict we’re gonna lose.

Kyle Huisinga: Wisconsin 56, Illinois 10

Yeah, this will be a bloodbath. The No. 1 defense in the nation against an offense that struggles to do any one thing well. The top rushing team in the nation against a defense that can’t tackle or read and react well. Jonathan Taylor gets around 200 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. It’s just another nail in the coffin of Lovie’s tenure at Illinois. Get geared up for basketball.

Michael Berns: Wisconsin 48, Illinois 14

As bad as Illinois football has been these past forever-it-seems years, I still feel some satisfaction knowing we’re in the Big Ten, playing against teams with major stakes and regularly ranked like Michigan and Wisconsin in back to back games at home. Jonathan Taylor is a generational talent, and even though he plays for a team I hope to beat — I think he’s a sensational college football player and compared to stars in the ACC, SEC and Big 12, I want to see him win the Heisman Trophy and succeed. It’s hard not to root for him. So if Illinois going to lose by 30+ anyway, I’d like to see him run for 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He seems like a great kid.

The game: Badgers decide to be nice and tell Illinois’ defense the plays they are running ahead of time. It still doesn’t matter. They’ll run the ball down our throats and make us beg for mercy. Isaiah Williams gets his first touchdown, too I predict. Hooray for that.

Mark Schaer: Wisconsin 51, Illinois 10

Michigan is significantly worse than Wisconsin. I’m not afraid to say it. Jonathan Taylor may well be the best running back in the nation, and Wisconsin’s defense has four shutouts this season in just six games. For all the people purporting some sort of “moral victory” the Illini can claim against Michigan, that in no way should give Illinois fans any hope for this game. Sure, it’s homecoming, but this is simply a game Wisconsin cannot and will not lose.

Likely, Reggie Corbin will get the scoring going for the Illini sometime in the second quarter (he’s due for a home run right about now), but Wisconsin’s offense will shred the Illini’s cryptic defensive scheme. I think this Illini team is talented, but clearly the coaches are not putting guys in the best position to succeed. Taylor will have four TDs on the ground, three of which will come from more than 10 yards out, and Coan is going to manage the game as he has all year. He’ll make throws when he needs to, but not much else. I’d like to see more of Matt Robinson and Isaiah Williams and what they can give us, but this game is not going to end well for the Illini. Happy Homecoming.

Drew Pastorek: Wisconsin 37, Illinois 7

This Wisconsin team is very different from the solid, yet unspectacular Badgers of years past. They’ve been really good for a really long time, but most games would be something like 24-13 or 27-17. This edition of the Badgers is hungrier, nastier, and more determined. Like the rest of my comrades I’m expecting a 250-300 yard day and several touchdowns for Jonathan Taylor. As for Illinois’ offense...well, they’ll be up against a team that’s ranked #1 in: scoring defense, total defense, third-down defense, and yards per play allowed. Oh, goodie! Great news when you aren’t very good at any particular thing! The Badgers will tee off on the quarterback (whether it’s Brandon Peters, I-Will or “our backup”) because our running game -- again -- will be rendered useless. I think Wisconsin will ease off the gas a bit after halftime, and the Illini will gain enough first downs to convince Chet from Rantoul that Lovie Smith is “getting through to the team” or that it’s “not really year four.” Illinois will probably recover another fumble...and probably rack up 100 yards in penalties. But hey, at least we won’t get shut out.

Thumpasaurus: Wisconsin 66, Illinois 0

My prediction was looking like the best through the first 28 or so minutes of the game last week. I didn’t realize Michigan would let up and treat the game like a scrimmage, running the same looks every time until Illinois found itself down only 3. Wisconsin will probably try to do the same thing, but the difference is that they’re MUCH better than Michigan at running the ball. The parts of their playbook that could use some work are in the passing game, but they won’t throw with the lead. Instead, even if Taylor only plays one half, they’ll still be handing it off inside with a fullback leading the way for a halfback to take on our safeties. Yikes on that matchup.

My prediction of Michigan 56, Illinois 0 was predicated on Harbaugh running it up to fire up his team, but 2019 Jim is a kindler, gentler, and substantially less effective Jim Harbaugh. On the other hand, I don’t know if there will even be any malice in Wisconsin laying the worst loss in school history on us Saturday, but they wouldn’t need to have cruel intentions to do it. I was wrong to doubt Jim Leonhard as a defensive coordinator, judging him solely by last year without giving him credit for 2017. This defense doesn’t have star players as talented as what they’ve had in the past, but the unit as a whole is among the best I can remember. It’s very strong in all areas, good at play recognition, disciplined, assignment-sound, and full of reliable tacklers across the board. In other words, it’s everything the Illini defense is not: well-coached.

The Illini defense has yet to face an offense like this. The three Big Ten offenses they’ve faced, which have absolutely torched them, are all spread-based attacks that prioritize the run. Nebraska uses more first-level RPOs because they want to establish the quarterback as a running threat, while Minnesota’s offense is, in theory, similar to what Michigan is trying to accomplish in that they want to pound it with backs until your defense sells out to stop those backs, then beat you over the top in the event that you stop them. When Illinois was out of position against these offenses, they gave up easy completions and big chunks of yardage. When Illinois was in position and identified plays well, the players lost one-on-one battles. It’s a balance where you have to be in position and then win your battle.

The easy part will be identifying plays and being in position. The hard part will be winning the one-on-one battles, because unlike the spread offenses Illinois has faced so far, Wisconsin isn’t trying to fool you as much as they’re trying to kick your ass. After absolutely having their way with Michigan’s elite athletes and Michigan State’s vaunted defensive front, Wisconsin’s offense might as well be the Lombardi Packers compared to our defense.

The Badgers have an opportunity to set some yardage records with Taylor and get him some more Heisman publicity, but I doubt they do this because they play Ohio State next week and our safeties are known for taking cheap headshots at skill players. Still, they continued to abuse Michigan without Taylor in the game. Even if this ends up being a 24-10 game like 2017, it’ll also be like 2017 in that it’s never in any doubt.

Raul Rodriguez: Wisconsin 31, Illinois 17

The Illini kept the score close in 2017 when everyone expected a blowout so I think they’ll perform better than we expect at home. Wisconsin is also in a look ahead spot with the clash with Ohio State coming up next week. Expect the Illini to play with some desperation but still lose.

Patrick Catezone: Wisconsin 56, Illinois 7

I would be shocked if the Illini score more than one touchdown on this Badgers defense. On the other side of the ball, Illinois’ defense will get torn apart by a Wisconsin offense that finally has a capable quarterback and a heisman running back. This game will be the big push in the “fire lovie” campaign as the hundreds of alumni who attended the game will question why he was ever hired.

Anthony Pasquale: Wisconsin 42, Illinois 24

Sticking with the trends, I see Illinois giving up almost 300+ yards of rushing and 40+ points for the fourth game in a row. Jonathan Taylor will make his Heisman resume even better and the Illini will lose their fifth straight game. Fans and alumni of Illinois will wish they were ghosts, grey like the uniforms the Illini dust off every homecoming. Too bad they just can’t seem to find and dust off a winning season or game for that matter.