The Wisconsin Badgers: A Preview

Last year a roughing the passer penalty on Charles Gilstrap during the Wisconsin game at Memorial Stadium effectively signaled the end of the Illinois football season. <br><br> Illinois is traveling up to Madison after a showing against Purdue that no one outside of them expected, and they feel they have a chance to shock the world by upsetting the Badgers in Madison.

Fortunately for the Illini, the Badgers offense is predictable and not that good. Unfortunately for the Illini, the Badgers defensive front four is great, as is their defense. Unfortunately for the Illini, running back Anthony Davis is expected to take his first snaps on Saturday after missing the last three games with an orbital fracture to his right eye that occurred on a tackle after a 21-yard run against Central Florida in the season opener for the Badgers.

Sophomore Jon Stocco is the starting signal caller for the Badger offense this season. He played in the final three games last season, and nearly led Wisconsin to a comeback victory over Iowa, a time in which I am sure most Illini fans were cheering for him. Stocco is used to playing with great wide receivers, as he went to high school in Minnesota with Arizona Cardinal Rookie Larry Fitzgerald. In the four games this season, Stocco has only amassed 561 yards and 3 touchdowns (two of those touchdowns in the first game of the season against Central Florida).

The Wisconsin offense is not considered potent by any experts, and I would be many feel they could use a little blue pill to spark up their offense. Stocco's main task as the signal caller for the Badgers is handing the ball off to whoever happens to be Wisconsin's running back that weekend. When it comes to throwing the football, he has already impressed his receivers with his strong arm and quick release, but his inaccuracy and consistency leave a lot to be desired in the eyes of Barry Alvarez and Badger fans.

Behind Stocco, the Badgers have two freshmen: red shirt Tyler Donovan and Sean Lewis, who enrolled early at Wisconsin this winter to take part in spring practices. The Badgers better hope that Stocco stays healthy for the entire season, because their back ups are extremely unproven, but in an offense who's goal is to hand the ball off to a running back, it probably does not matter as much.

The Wisconsin Badgers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in their system for ten straight years before last season when that streak was snapped due to the numerous different ankle injuries suffered by Anthony Davis starting with the UNLV game. So far this season, Davis has not been able to stay injury free, and he has not played since the first game of the season, but the will be behind the Wisconsin offensive line on Saturday afternoon.

With Davis went down, Wisconsin looked to Booker Stanley to shoulder the load of the Wisconsin rushing attack. He carried the load for the Badgers against both UNLV and Arizona before being pulled in the Penn State game for a combination of injury and complete ineffectiveness.

In the Penn State game, Alvarez looked to full back Matt Bernstein to shoulder the rushing load for the Badgers, and he did not disappoint him. Bernstein carried the ball 29 times for 132 yards against the Nittany Lions.

The Illini should see a mix of Davis and Bernstein lining up behind the offensive line. As a team, the Badgers are have rushed for just over 160 yards per game.

The overall numbers from the Badgers pretty much show that they don't pass the ball that much. The Badgers are only averaging just over 140 yards per game in the air. Much of the drop off is probably due to the loss of Lee Evans to the NFL Draft after last season. The Badger receivers have large pads to fill, and none of the players at this point in their college career are ready to fill in for Evans.

The starters at receiver for the Badgers are a pair of juniors, Brandon Williams and Jonathon Orr. Along with Williams and Orr, one of Stocco's favorite targets has been former Illinois prep quarterback Owen Daniels. The Badger offense has been good about spreading out the ball when it comes to throwing it as eleven different players have caught a pass this season. Stocco's three touchdown passes have been in the direction of senior Darrin Charles, Owen Daniels (52 yard touchdown pass), and Orr.

At tight end, senior Tony Paciotti returns to the position he has held for the last two seasons. Paciotti is more of a blocking tight end than a pass receiving tight end. He caught just one pass all of last season, and only has one catch so far this season. When the Badgers are going into passing formations with the tight end, they will normally replace Paciotti with Daniels.

The defensive line is the definite strength of the Badgers defense. They return three starters from last year's defensive line that seemed to fade in the late minutes of games. Also returning is Erasmus James, who sat out all of last season due to a hip injury.

In the Badger's 4-3 formation, they line up Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson at the tackles, and Darius Jones and Erasmus James at the defensive end. Hawthorne has started the last 33 games for Wisconsin, and was a first team All-Big Ten member as voted on by the media last season. Hawthorne is a definite space filler at the tackle position, and along with Jefferson, he will give the Illini fits when they try to run up the middle.

Defensive end was a question mark for the Badgers heading into fall camp, but Jones and James have erased all doubt about whether or not they would be up for the challenge. Last week James knocked out two Penn State quarterbacks, and he plans on feeding Jon Beutjer the Camp Randall turf for lunch on Saturday afternoon.

The Badgers front four is a major reason as to why they have held opponents to just 4.8 points per game so far this season. They are getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks themselves, so they are not requiring Kevin Cosgrove's replacement at defensive coordinator, former Kansas State co-defensive coordinator Brett Bielema to call blitzes from the linebackers and the corners.

The strength of the Badgers is their defense. They do not have the offensive fire power to blow any body away, but they have the defensive strength to beat great offensive teams in a low scoring game. If the Wisconsin front four can get pressure on Beutjer and stuff the Illini running game, it will be a very long day for the Illini.

Prediction: Wisconsin 17 - Illinois 3

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