Ready for No Mercy

Few things have gone right for Illinois offensively over the last month, but the Fighting Illini have been able to stay competitive thanks to junior defensive ends Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan, an aggressive one-two punch that No.15 Wisconsin will have to deal with Saturday in Champaign.

MADISON - Having been off the schedule for the past two seasons, senior captain Bradie Ewing afforded himself an extra few hours in the film room. A lot has changed for Ewing since he played the Illini, working solely on special teams units during the 2008 Homecoming victory in the team's last meeting, and his film study confirmed what he'd been hearing all along.

Illinois' defensive ends are merciless, literally.

"They both have a high motor in getting to the quarterback and the ball," Ewing said. "They have a lot of athleticism and it's going to be a difference challenge and a change of pace."

When No.15 Wisconsin travels to Memorial Stadium for its final regular season road game against Illinois, the Badgers will have watched plenty of film on Illinois junior defensive ends Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan, a duo coach Bret Bielema calls the most talented one-two punch at that position in the league.

Not only are the two talented, Illini defense coordinator Vic Koennig has created multiple wrinkles, including different types of slants, blitzes and coverages, which allow Buchanan and Mercilus to find a groove and present new challenges that Wisconsin hasn't faced all season.

Mercilus – pronounced merciless - simply shows no mercy to opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers. The 6-4, 265-pound defensive end leads the nation in sacks (12.5) and forced fumbles (seven). The seven forced fumbles is second in Big Ten history, behind Jonal St.-Dic's eight in 2007 for Michigan State.

"(He) has got a knack on a pass rush," Bielema said of Mercilus, who also leads the team with 17.5 tackles for loss. "He really does bend the corner very well, very, very efficient with his hands."

On the other side, the 6-6, 240-pound Buchanan has chipped in with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Those two have contributed to Illinois fifth in the country with 3.2 sacks per game and sixth in tackles for loss with 8.1 per game. Both numbers lead the Big Ten.

Through 10 games, Wisconsin has allowed 16 sacks, third-lowest total in the conference, and Wilson has been sacked 13 times, but both him and Bielema commented that they might be the best pair of gifted defensive ends in the league.

"They look like pro-style defensive ends," said Wilson, who leads the nation in passing efficiency (210.6). "They're tall, really athletic, fast, coming around the edge really well. You really have to make sure you're stepping up in the pocket, throwing the ball on time, making sure that you're just gaining positive gains every single play, and trying to get first downs, and then go from there.

"Obviously, we have a great offensive line, and they have a great defensive line, so it's going to be a battle."

Echoing the comments, senior right tackle Josh Oglesby didn't mince words when he called the duo one of the best pairs of defensive ends in the country. He also didn't deny that the Badgers have seen talent like that before.

Led by now NFL defensive ends O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt, the Badgers led the Big Ten and tied for 10th in the country in sacks (37.0) while ranked second in the conference and 15th in the NCAA in tackles for loss (92.0) in 2009, the most by any Wisconsin team since the 1998 Big Ten championship team.

Schofield ranked second in the country with 24.5 tackles for loss, the second-highest total in school history in 2009. Watt ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for seventh in the country with 21.0 tackles for loss last season.

During the '09 season, Schofield and Watt formed the country's most dynamic team, leading the country with a combined 40 tackles for loss. Mercilus and Buchanan have a combined 28.5 tackles for loss with at least two more games to go.

While most teams have trouble simulating the speed in practice, it's something Wisconsin has seen on a daily basis.

"Going against some of the guys we have here is really going to help us in playing these guys," said Oglesby, who chatted with Watt after Thursday's practice. "In years past when we had J.J. and OB, you had your speed guy and your bull guy. That's what they have this year. Be able to go against guys like that prepare us to go against guys like this."

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