Smith had first-quarter touchdowns runs of 19 and 2 yards, and quarterback Jim Sorgi scored the first of his two touchdowns with 12:30 left in the first half as the Badgers built a 21-0 lead. Sorgi scored from 8 yards out and added a 4-yard TD run in the second half. Illinois (1-4) lost its third straight game and its seventh straight Big Ten opener.
The Illini fought back, closing to 28-20 on E.B. Halsey's 4-yard TD run with 5:14 left in the third quarter. They appeared to get even closer when Antonio Mason ran an interception back for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Wisconsin kept the ball and marched downfield on 12 straight rushes, with Sorgi scoring to make it 35-20.
An 18-yard field goal by Mike Allen made it 38-20. Halsey also scored on a 4-yard TD pass from Jon Beutjer, who completed 23 of 41 passes for 207 yards, and John Gockman kicked field goals of 27 and 47 yards.
Illinois rushed 21 times for only 64 yards. Halsey carried 10 times for 43 yards. The Badgers took off running from the start, taking advantage of a 19-yard punt by Illinois' Steve Weatherford and marching 45 yards for their first score with 12:32 left in the first quarter. They intercepted Beutjer's pass on the next drive and turned it into a nine-play, 68-yard drive. Wisconsin ran the ball 27 times in the first half for 148 yards.