Wisconsin looks for its second Big Ten road win at Illinois Saturday

Badger Nation's Front Seven ranks the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need for this week's game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium.

Joel Stave became the first quarterback in school history to go 4-0 vs. an opponent after he helped guide Wisconsin to a win over Purdue this past Saturday. He’ll have a chance to equal that record Saturday at Illinois, as the fifth-year senior has helped Wisconsin win the three games by an average of 17 points over the Illini.

Although Wisconsin has won the previous five games against Illinois, which includes two road wins in Champaign, the Badgers will need to be ready for a test, as Illinois has allowed only 42 points through two Big Ten games and can cause issues for Wisconsin’s offense.

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a win over Illinois (4-2, 1-1).

Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses

1, Joel Stave QB (2): Stave has found himself in a rhythm passing over the last two games, throwing twice for 322 yards on an average of 44.5 pass attempts. Averaging 29.4 pass attempts through the first five games, Stave has had to carry a bigger weight win the run game struggling. Illinois ranks seventh in pass defense in the Big Ten (181.2 yards a game) but have lowered that number in Big Ten play to 152.5 yards. Stave could offset the play of Illinois’ secondary by distributing the football to his wide receivers, as seven different Badgers caught a football against Purdue. No matter what he does, he has to eliminate the turnovers. Stave has made some questionable decisions this season, and Illinois has seven picks on the year, three of which by safety Taylor Barton.

2, Joe Schobert OLB (1): In addition to his seven tackles against Purdue, Schobert found ways of getting into the backfield with one tackle for loss, 0.5 sack and one quarterback hurry. With offenses scheming against him, it has allowed Wisconsin’s other linebackers to make some noise. Illinois has only given up eight sacks this year and will be paying attention to Schobert so he can’t make a living in the backfield. With Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt averaging 38.3 pass attempt a games and completing 58.3 percent, Schobert will have a chance to breakthrough and help supply some pressure. If Wisconsin’s defense can find a way to wear down Illinois offensive line, it could provide the opportunity that Schobert needs to get after Lunt and be able to take him down in the backfield.

3, Darius Hillary CB (3): Hillary will have another stiff test against Illinois’ potent passing attack. After helping limit Purdue to 136 passing yards, Hillary could be matched up with Geronimo Allison, who leads Illinois with 40 receptions for 601 yards and averages 15.3 yards per reception. With Illinois ranking second in the Big Ten in passing yards a game (256.5 yards) Hillary can’t lose where Allison is on the field. Second amongst Wisconsin cornerbacks with 22 tackles, Hillary has done well so far this year of helping contain the opponent’s best wide receiver and not allowing big plays in the passing game, as Wisconsin only allows an average of 10.75 yards per catch.

4, Alex Erickson WR (7): If Wisconsin is going to establish the pass, Stave will be looking to Erickson to help move the football down the field. Erickson over the last two games has registered a combined 16 receptions for 199 yards. That connection between Stave and Erickson has proven to be formidable, but it has also helped Erickson that others are starting to make plays in the passing game to take some pressure off of him. Erickson will have a chance to consistently pick up a first down as Illinois allows 10.5 yards per catch. If Wisconsin can consistently convert on third down, like they did against Purdue, they will have a chance to consistently move the football down the field, as Illinois is giving up 10.5 yards per catch.

5, Michael Caputo S (5): Caputo will serve as a security blanket for Wisconsin’s cornerbacks. Caputo ranks fifth on the team in tackles (32) but has also helped make sure Wisconsin’s secondary is difficult to pass on. Caputo in particular has been able to defend the pass well this year, as he is tied for the team lead with four pass breakups. Caputo will certainly have a chance to make plenty of plays against Lunt in the passing game and will need to find ways to break up a pass when given the opportunity. Allison will get his touches in the passing game but Caputo will need to make sure he doesn’t allow him to pick up those chunk yard plays that could flip field position. If Wisconsin can prevent them from happening, the defense should prevent Illinois from getting into a rhythm on offense.

6, Dare Ogunbowale RB (4): Ogunbowale couldn’t repeat his 100-yard rushing performance against Purdue but he did finish the game with 107 all-purpose yards. That kind of production from Ogunbowale will be counted on again, as Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal are questionable to play. Although Ogunbowale has struggled at times running the football, he has shown that he can be another target for Stave in the passing game - ranking third on the team in receptions (20) and receiving yards (160). Ogunbowale needs to take some pressure off the passing game and set up favorable downs, thanks to the run. Illinois only allows 151.3 yards a game on the ground, an average of four yards per carry, so Ogunbowale is going to have to work hard for his rushing yards.

7, T.J. Edwards MLB (NR): With Schobert getting the attention of the opposing team’s offensive coordinator over the last two weeks, Edwards has been able to find ways of capitalizing. Leading the team in tackles the last two weeks, Edwards will be responsible for slowing an Illinois rushing attack averaging 36 carries a game. If Wisconsin’s defensive line can consistently create lanes, Edwards will need to make sure he doesn’t allow attempts to get to the secondary. Although Edwards has been strong against the run, he hasn’t been able to supply the pressure often in team’s backfield (three tackles for loss). If Edwards wants to continue to make an impact, he will need to find ways of getting into Illinois’ backfield to prevent Lunt from going through his progressions.

Others to Note

Rafael Gaglianone K: Illinois defense is only giving up 19.67 points a game this season, so Wisconsin needs Gaglianone to convert on opportunities to make sure Wisconsin doesn’t leave the field without registering some sort of points. Gaglianone hasn’t been automatic like he was last season, having gone 10-for-17 (58.8 percent) on field goals (6 of 10 in Big Ten play).

Tyler Marz LT: Marz will have a challenge against Duwane Smoot, who has registered five of Illinois’ six sacks, including four in the last three games. Marz will need to make sure Stave has the time he needs to see what options he has down field and to prevent a collapsing pocket, a problem that has popped up during conference play.

Chikwe Obasih DE: Obasih led Wisconsin’s defensive lineman with four tackles against Purdue and was the only defensive lineman to register a tackle for loss and a sack. Obasih has been playing well over the last two games with his ability to open up lanes for Wisconsin’s linebackers and has registered a TFL in two of Wisconsin’s last three games. Illinois has given up 30 tackles for loss this season so Obasih should have opportunities.

Jazz Peavy WR: Peavy was able to register two catches against Purdue both resulting in a fresh set of downs for Wisconsin off third-down plays. If Peavy can continue to show he can consistently catch the football (six catches last two weeks), he should continue to see his number called. 

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