FACTS & STATS: Site: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321) — Madison, Wisconsin.
Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Illinois 3-1, Wisconsin 3-0. Away Record:
Illinois 0-2, Wisconsin 0-1. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-0, Wisconsin 0-1.
Conference Record: Illinois 0-2, Wisconsin 0-1. Series Record: Wisconsin
GAME NOTES: Fresh off a puzzling loss, the Wisconsin Badgers will attempt to
bounce back when they host a depleted Illinois Fighting Illini squad in Big
Ten Conference action at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
The Illini receiving some devastating news over the weekend, as quarterback
Wes Lunt is expected to miss four-to-six weeks due to a broken leg. Lunt
suffered the injury during a 38-27 loss to Purdue last Saturday, which was the
third defeat in the last four games for Illinois.
Wisconsin may not have lost such an important piece, but it took a huge hit to
its Big Ten title chances when it dropped a 20-14 decision to Northwestern
last weekend. The Badgers were among the nationally ranked entering the
contest, but they now find themselves with a 3-2 record and an 0-1 start to
the league slate.
There hasn’t been much parity in this rivalry recently, with Wisconsin earning
wins in eight of the last nine meetings, including a 56-32 triumph in
Champaign last season. The all-time series is a bit more even, with the
Badgers clinging to a 37-36-7 advantage.
It is going to be virtually impossible to replace Lunt. The Oklahoma State
transfer was leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game (313.8 ypg) before
his injury. In fact, he was the only player in the league posting more than
300 yards a week. Reilly O’Toole has the unfortunate task of stepping in, but
he has completed just 52.6 percent of his passes for 428 yards and four picks
in three games this season.
Fortunately, there is skill at wide receiver for O’Toole to work with as Mike
Dudek leads the Illini in receptions (33) and receiving yards (539), and is
coming off an incredible 200-yard effort against Purdue. Geronimo Allison (26
receptions, 449 yards, four TDs) leads the way in touchdown receptions, and
running back Josh Ferguson (25 receptions, 233 yards, two TDs) is a nice
option out of the backfield.
Ferguson may take on a greater role in the offense going forward, with O’Toole
likely to need a security blanket. Ferguson finished with 79 yards on 10
catches against Purdue, as well as 60 yards and a score on the ground. He has
rushed for 437 yards and five scores overall this season, with Donovonn Young
(160 yards, three TDs) stepping in as a backup.
Even if Ferguson steps up it may not be enough. After all, with Lunt healthy
the team was only averaging 28.7 points and 428.8 yards per game.
On defense, Illinois has not fared all that much better. The Illini are being
lit up for 35.5 points per game, while ranking last in the Big Ten in total
defense (482.3 ypg). A failure to get pressure on the quarterback and create
turnovers has been a major stumbling block, as Illinois has 12 sacks and only
seven takeaways in five games.
Mason Monheim (62 tackles, 4.5 TFL) leads the unit, while Zane Petty (59
tackles) and Taylor Barton (58 tackles) have each performed admirably.
It should come as no surprise that Wisconsin wants to run the ball early and
often. It is completely understandable with Melvin Gordon lining up in the
backfield, as the standout back racked up 259 yards and a touchdown on 27
carries against Northwestern, marking his second 200-yard game of the season.
Gordon leads the nation in rushing yards per game (174.2), and is tied for
third in rushing touchdowns.
With their star running back leading the way, the Badgers are the most
productive rushing team in the Big Ten (331.4 ypg) and fourth-best in the
nation. In terms of overall offensive success, they rank fifth in the Big Ten
Tanner McEvoy has started all five games for the team but has not been
particularly impressive. He has thrown for only 629 yards on 57.3 percent
passing, with as many interceptions as touchdown passes (five). He was pulled
against Northwestern after connecting on only 4-of-10 throws for 24 yards.
Joel Stave didn’t exactly seize the opportunity when given it, as he tossed
three interceptions and went only 8-of-19.
Regardless of who is under center, it is clear that Alex Erickson (25
receptions, 301 yards, TD) is the top target. He is the only player on the
roster with more than 10 catches.
Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, as it leads the
way in average yards allowed (285.6) and is second in scoring defense (15.6
ppg). The team has 13 sacks while giving up only four.
Michael Caputo (37 tackles, INT) is the only player with more than 30 stops,
and Derek Landisch (26 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) leads the way in tackles
for loss and sacks.
With Lunt out of commission, the Badgers’ stout defense should have its way
with O’Toole, who may be a senior but lacks composure. Meanwhile, expect
Gordon to feast on Illinois’ defensive front and carry the Badgers to a solid
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 13