Breakdown/Prediction: Illinois

BadgerNation breaks down Wisconsin's matchup with Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday morning and offer our prediction.

Illinois (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 11 at 11:01 a.m. CT

Stadium –Camp Randall Stadium (80,321/FieldTurf)

Television –ESPN2 (Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway, Paul Carcaterra)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series –Wisconsin leads 37-36-7 (UW leads 20-16-4 in Madison)

Last Meeting –Wisconsin won, 56-32, on Oct. 19, 2013 in Champaign, Ill.

Series Notes

Since 1993, Wisconsin is 13-3-1 against Illinois, including a 6-1-1 mark at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers have won five straight Big Ten home openers, outscoring their opponents 199-94 in those games for an average margin of victory of 21.0 points.

UW hasn’t lost a Big Ten home opener to an unranked team since a 63-32 loss to Indiana in 2001.

The Badgers and Illini will meet in UW’s first Big Ten home game for the second time in three seasons (Wisconsin scored a 31-14 win in 2012) but just the third time in the modern era (since 1946). UW’s only other Big Ten home opener vs. Illinois was a 20-6 victory by the No. 8-ranked Badgers over the No. 2 Illini in 1952.

Wisconsin wide receivers coach Chris Beatty spent the 2012 season as offensive coordinator at Illinois during Illini head coach Tim Beckman’s first season.

Illinois outside linebackers coach Al Seamonson, a native of Stoughton, Wis., lettered at UW in 1980 and 1981. A 1982 graduate, he spent three seasons as a volunteer coach and graduate assistant from 1982-84 under of UW head coach Dave McClain.

The Badgers’ roster features seven Illinois natives: DE James Adeyanju (Chicago), QB Thad Armstrong (Ottawa), ILB Garret Dooley (Rochester), OLB T.J. Edwards (Lake Villa), TE Troy Fumagalli (Naperville), NG Warren Herring (Fairview Heights) and OL Dan Voltz (Barrington).

Illini head coach Tim Beckman is 0-2 against Wisconsin, while Badger head coach Gary Andersen is 1-0 against the Illini.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers rank No. 11 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 15.6 points per game. UW also ranks among the top 25 nationally in total defense (8th - 285.6 ypg), rushing defense (22nd - 109.6 ypg) and passing defense (15th - 176.0 ypg). UW joins Baylor, Louisville and TCU as the only FBS teams to rank in the top 25 of all four major defensive categories.

Opponents have converted just 19 of their 69 third-down attempts vs. the Badgers this year. That third-down conversion rate of 27.5 percent ranks the Wisconsin defense No.8 nationally and second in the Big Ten behind Nebraska (27.1 percent).

Wisconsin’s offense is averaging 6.87 yards per play, ranking second in the Big Ten and 16th in the FBS. Marshall leads the nation at 7.82 yards per play while Nebraska’s mark of 6.91 is the best in the Big Ten.

The Badgers have allowed just four sacks on the season, trailing only Michigan State (3) for the fewest in the Big Ten. Only eight FBS teams have allowed fewer than four sacks on the season.

The Badgers rank No. 7 nationally in time of possession at 34:05 per game. Michigan State leads all FBS teams with an average time of possession of 36:25. Over the last two seasons, the Badgers have averaged a time of possession of 33:43, which ranks fourth nationally.

Illinois Notes

Illinois' offense has thrived on big plays, racking up 40 scrimmage plays of 20+ yards, six more than it had in the entire 2012 season. The Illini are tied for fifth nationally in 30+-yard plays (20) and sixth in 40+-yard plays (11), leading the Big Ten from all three distances.

For the second-straight year, Illini running back Josh Ferguson is among the nation's top all-purpose backs. He is one of only four players in the nation with over 400 rushing yards and over 200 receiving yards. Through six games, he has five rushing touchdowns and two receiving TDs, and is tied for 18th in FBS with nine 20-plus-yard plays from scrimmage (five rushing, four receiving).

Four Illini rank in the top 10 in the Big Ten in tackles. Junior LB Mason Monheim ranks third (10.3 tpg), senior DB Zane Petty is fifth (9.8), sophomore DB Taylor Barton sixth (9.7) and sophomore LB T.J. Neal Jr. 10th (8.2).

The Illinois offense made huge improvements in 2013 under OC Bill Cubit and continues to make strides in several areas in 2014. The Illini jumped at least 50 spots in the national rankings from 2012 to 2013 in first downs, passing offense, long scrimmage plays, total offense, passing efficiency and scoring offense, with the biggest move a 95-place jump in first downs per game. The passing game has gone up another notch in 2014, with passing offense and big plays both ranking in the top 15 in FBS.

Freshman receiver Mike Dudek ranks 19th in FBS in receiving yards and second among freshmen receivers behind only Bowling Green's Roger Lewis (595 yards). He ranks second in the Big Ten in receiving yards and fifth in the league in both receiving yards per game (89.8) and receptions per game (5.5).

Breakdown

Can one man carry a college football team? Melvin Gordon is trying to prove that he can.

After running for a career-high 259 yards at Northwestern, Gordon leads the nation in rushing at 174.2 yards per game. How good is that number? That average is higher than 65 of the 125 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including 29 teams from the Power Five conferences.

Wisconsin’s prized player is the nation’s active career leader in rushing average at 8.14 yards per carry, has scored 10 touchdowns this season and is averaging 231.0 yards per game and 9.63 yards per carry over the last three games.

And yet, Wisconsin is 0-1 in the Big Ten and struggling offensively because of an inept passing attack, not because of a rushing offense that is third in the country at 331.4 yards per outing.

With issues under center, Gordon’s workload has increased. In the team's first three games, he averaged 15.3 carries per game. Over the last two games, Gordon is averaging 29.5 carries per game.

Andersen said before the season that it wouldn’t be smart to have Gordon carry the ball 30-or-more times a game, but it’s become obvious that the Badgers need Gordon with few dependable receiving targets, a struggling offensive line and massive question marks at quarterback.

“He is an unbelievable force out there on the football field,” said Andersen, adding he’s happy with Gordon’s current workload and the junior is handling it well. “Anytime he catches it, he has the ability to go the distance and exciting to watch him play… He's a great kid and deserves what he's getting in the run game.”

This figures to be another banner day for Gordon against an Illinois defense that is one of the worst in the country against the run. Giving up 249.5 rushing yards per game, Illinois is last in the Big Ten and ranks No.119 out of 125 FBS teams, having gotten progressively worse in stopping the run under Beckman.

A snapshot of Illinois’ first two Big Ten games tells the whole story. In its 45-14 loss in Nebraska two weeks ago, the Cornhuskers ran for 458 yards and their Heisman Trophy candidate – Ameer Abdullah – ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.

That could be understandable, but Illinois is so porous against the run that it allowed Purdue – the worst statistical offense in the conference – to run for 349 yards in a 38-27 upset victory, averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

If those stats hold true, expect a heavy dose of both Gordon AND Clement, something that was absent against Northwestern with Gordon getting 27 carries and Clement being limited to six.

Gordon has bounced between being soft-spoken and poignant with his comments following games, but never to the point of saying anything outlandish, despite his preseason goals of making the College Football Playoffs and winning the Heisman Trophy appearing to be out of reach. It’s easy to tell that there’s plenty of frustration being built up inside of him.

“I'm very comfortable with Melvin being driven enough as a competitor to go out and compete every week regardless of the team's record and regardless of, quite frankly, what successes he had the week before,” said Andersen. “He's going to keep on going.”

Prediction

You can tell how things are going for a person by what unanimous people say about them on the internet. Here is a sample of what Illini coach Tim Beckman’s Wikipedia page looked like earlier this week.

“Beckman … is an American football "coach" and former player. He is the soon-to-be-former head football coach at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. One of the worst hires in the last 20 years in all of NCAA football, he set the once promising Illinois program back so far that it will take years to recover from the stain of his reign.”

Ouch, and you thought Andersen was having a bad week. Wisconsin opened as a 23-point favorite and the point spread has since gone up between 26 and 27.5. As long as UW doesn’t do anything outlandish, like not run Gordon, UW should win this one rather easily.

Wisconsin 49, Illinois 13

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 4-1

Against the Spread: 2-2

Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!


Badger Nation Top Stories