Preview: Wisconsin at Illinois

Illini aim for first win over Wisconsin since 2007; winner keeps within striking distance of Iowa in the Big Ten West

Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 B1G)

at Illinois (4-2, 1-1 B1G)

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst) and Lisa Byington (sidelines)

Last week: Illinois idle; Wisconsin beat Purdue 24-7

Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 38-36-1, has won five straight and nine of the last 10 meetings

Vegas betting line: Wisconsin (-6), Over/under (45.5)

Illini depth chart

Injury Report: Ferguson, Murdock officially OUT vs. Wisconsin

Press Clippings: Dudek likely out for the season

Feature: Dawuane Smoot hurdling expectations, becoming B1G premier pass rusher

Werner's Whits (Thursday): Illni welcome two big OL visitors

Werner's Whits (Wednesday): Wes Lunt vs. Christian Hackenberg

Werner's Whits (Tuesday): Thoughts on Dudek, remaining schedule, recruiting, redshirting

Easterling: Breaking down the 2016 Illini recruiting class with superlatives

Know Your Enemy: Badger Nation's Bejamin Worgull breaks down the Badgers

Big Ten Power Rankings: Illini at No. 8

Number-crunching

  • 3: Wins Wisconsin's Joel Stave has over Illinois as a starting quarterback.
  • 10.9: Points allowed per game by Wisconsin's defense, which ranks No. 3 nationally.
  • 17.0: Points per game allowed by Wisconsin's defense the last three seasons under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Only Alabama (16.4 ppg) has been better during that time.
  • 35.0: Pass attempts averaged per game for Wisconsin so far this season, the highest total in 20 seasons. The Badgers averaged 23.7 pass attempts per game since 1996.
  • 36: Games Illinois has played after a bye in the modern era (since 1985). The Illini are 13-23 after a bye during that period.
  • 40: Receptions by Illini wide receiver Geronimo Allison, which leads the Big Ten. He also leads the conference with 601 receiving yards.
  • 105: Number of homecoming games Illinois has hosted. The Illini are 45-57-2 on homecoming.
  • 1910: The year Illinois hosted its first homecoming game, a 3-0 win over the University of Chicago.
  • 2007: The last time Illinois defeated Wisconsin, a 31-26 upset of then-No. 5 Wisconsin. The Illini ultimately went 9-3 during the regular season and made the Rose Bowl, a 49-17 loss to USC.

Badgers to watch

1. Joel Stave, QB: Infamous for his case of the yips, Stave has rebounded to put together a fairly strong season for the Badgers. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (231.0) and sixth in pass efficiency (127.8). But Stave had four turnovers in the loss to Iowa (two interceptions, two fumbles) and completed 45 of 88 combined passes against Iowa and Nebraska.

2. Corey Clement, RB: The 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior has just eight carries for 16 yards this season because he has been sidelined after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. But Clement, who ran for 949 yards while spelling Melvin Gordon last season, is expected to return to game play this week (he dressed but did not play last week). If healthy, Clement has a dangerous combination of strength and speed. If he is limited or does not play, junior Dare Ogunbowale (482 yards, 5.1 ypc) will carry the load.

3. Alex Erickson, WR:  After leading the Badgers receiving attack last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound senior is third in the Big Ten in receptions (33) and fourth in receiving yards (463) so far this season.

4. Joe Schobert, Edge: The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior, a former walk-on, has burst onto the scene this season. He ranks first in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (14.5) and second in sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (four).

5. Vince Biegel, Edge: The other half of the Badgers' fearsome edge rushers, Biegel -- a 6-foot-4, 246-pound redshirt junior -- came into the season as a more feared rusher and better pro prospect than Schobert. Biegel, who has 22 career starts, had 16.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season and has 7.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks so far this season.

6. T.J. Edwards, ILB: The redshirt freshman has 54 tackles through seven games and won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after logging a career-high 16 tackles during last week's win against Purdue.

7. Michael Caputo, S: The leader of the Badgers defense has played in 47 games and made 34 starts. The 6-foot, 205-pound senior, who was a second-team All-America selection last season, is fierce in run support and possibly the Badgers best in pass coverage.

Keys to the game

1. Blitz recognitioin: The Badgers are part of the growing list of college teams that use the 3-4 defense. The other two Big Ten teams who do -- Indiana and Maryland -- play in the East, so the Illini offensive line likely used the extra week of preparation to its advantage in facing a different front. The toughest challenge of Wisconsin's scheme occurs when they force 3rd-and-long. The Badgers will have five to six players standing on the line of scrimmage, none with a hand on the ground and all moving until the ball is snapped. The Illini offensive line must constantly communicate and stay aware of the blitzers. Quarterback Wes Lunt must do his best in checking into protections, as well. Illini offensive tackles Christian DiLauro and Austin Scmidt, who are often put on islands, have done a great job of protecting Lunt this season, but Schobert and Biegel are a handful. The interior offensive line has struggled against stunts and twists, something Wisconsin does often.

2. Keep DL fresh: The Illini defensive line dominated Iowa for most of the first half but the Hawkeyes eventually wore down the Illini's talented, agressive front four with 51 total carries. Wisconsin's run game has struggled this season (12th in the Big Ten in rushing after leading the conference last season) and Illinois needs to keep it that way, though the likely return of Clement threatens to boost the Badgers battering-ram identity. The Illini starting four rarely gets a break because the drop off to the second group is so great, and the Badgers usually need long drives to find the end zone. So forcing 3rd-and-long may be the key to Illinois keeping its talented DL fresh into the fourth quarter. Long drives from the Illini offense would help too.

3. Seeing red(zone): The Illini rank 122 of 128 FBS teams in red-zone scoring percentage (61.1). Lunt's arm has allowed the Illini to have success between the 20s, but Illini play-caller Bill Cubit has to find a way to get the Illini in the redzone. The Illini had an encouraging rushing touchdown against Iowa, but too often hsa to get cute to try to crack the end zone. The Illini hope the return of hard-nosed lead blocker Tim Clary helps the Illini goal-line package reach pay dirt.

Illini in the spotlight

Offense

Joe Spencer, C: The Illini junior has done a very good job of quarterbacking protections this season, along with Lunt, and held up well individually against pass protection. Wisconsin's disguises will make his job tougher. Also, Wisconsin doesn't have as talented of a defensive interior as Nebrasaka or Iowa, so it's time for Spencer and the Illini guards to get a bit of a push up front in the run game.

Defense

Rob Bain, NT: The 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive linemen hasn't had as many flashy moments as his three fellow front-four starters (Dawuane SmootChunky Clements and Jihad Ward) but he has been stout against the run. This may be the game -- because Clement likely will return -- that Wisconsin tries to re-establish its smashmouth identity. Wisconsin's offensive line is vulnerable in the interior, despite All-Big Ten center Dan Voltz, due to two redshirt freshmen starting at the guard spots. Bain must hold his own against Voltz and take advantage of matchups against weaker freshmen.

Prediction

This is the most beatable Badgers team the Illini have faced in a long time. Wisconsin relies more on finesse on offense and scheme and speed on defense than it has in recent decades. That bodes well for an Illini team that is more experienced up front and is more dangerous in the passing game. The Illini have shown against Nebraska and Iowa that they have shrunk the gap between them and the top of the Big Ten. That said, Illinois' depleted offense -- three of its top four running backs are out and three of its top five wide receivers are out -- has struggled, especially in the red zone, and the Wisconsin defense is better than the Illinois defense. Wisconsin is still the better team, but Illini quarterback Wes Lunt's talent could be the equalizer. The loser of this game has no realistic chance of catching Iowa in the West and likely falls behind the other (at least for the moment) in the bowl pecking order. I've gone back and forth on this all week. I'm going with the healthier team and the better defense in a true Big Ten battle.

Wisconsin 24, Illinois 20


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