The Illini travel to Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday looking for their first win up there since 2002.
Wisconsin is off to a slow start this year at 2-2 overall, and 0-1 in the Big Ten Conference after losing to Ohio State last week. The Badgers have also lost to Washington State while defeating Illinois State and New Mexico State.
If the Illini are going to defeat the Badgers and show the Big Ten and rest of the nation that they are for real, they need to do these two things.
Make Wisconsin Run
As usual Wisconsin loves running the football. This year the Badgers’ ground game is led by sophomore Braelon Allen, who’s rushed for 497 yards and 6 touchdowns so far. Allen is a major reason why Wisconsin ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing.
But the passing attack isn’t as strong—it only ranks 12th in the conference. Junior quarterback Graham Mertz has thrown for 791 yards so far this year along with 7 touchdowns, but he was dealt a major blow last week when starting tight end Clay Cundiff left the Ohio State game with an injury. Cundiff’s status for the Illini game is unknown.
If the Illini stop the run, then they have a great shot at neutralizing the Badgers. Let Mertz beat you—he’ll have to contend with the Illini pass rush of Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph, and Seth Coleman.
Exploit the Run Defense
Wisconsin is nothing special on defense, ranking ninth in rush defense and seventh in pass defense. Though they happen to lead the conference in interceptions, they rank next to last in the Big Ten in sacks.
To exploit the Badgers’ weaknesses, the Illini ought to feed Chase Brown the ball.
They should also keep the offense out of predictable pass schemes. Facing less pressure in the pocket, Tommy Devito should play risk-averse and focus on making smart decisions with the ball.
Not Like Other Years
This is a game the Illini are very capable of winning—Wisconsin is not as good as it has been in years past. They’re especially down from last year’s team, which hardly ever had to get to third down against the Illini defense.
Illinois is rolling and full of confidence after handling Virginia and Chattanooga. They’re also coming off a “mini-bye” after playing Thursday as opposed to Saturday night for Wisconsin.
It’s time to make a statement—not only to the Big Ten West, but to the Big Ten. To quote the great Weird Al movie UHF, “We don’t need any stinkin’ Badgers!!!” GO ILLNI!!!