Stewing on a 9-point loss for two weeks, Illinois will be looking for its first statement win of the season, meaning Wisconsin will need to be ready to take on a team that has showed much improvement since last season.
Wisconsin’s offense will be tested as they continue to struggle finding ways to score, only averaging 17.6 points a game through three Big Ten games. Quarterback Joel Stave will need to find a way to reverse that trend for Wisconsin to have a chance against a defense giving up 19.7 points a game.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory over Illinois, which would extend the Badgers’ winning streak to six in the series and three in a row in Champaign.
1, Slowing Wes Lunt down
Lunt has been effective this year in guiding Illinois’ offense, as the Illini ranks second in passing offense (256.5 yards) and has nine touchdowns to two interceptions. Wisconsin may have trouble slowing Lunt down if they can’t consistently get in the backfield. Illinois will be trying to neutralize outside linebacker Joe Schobert, so it will be up to the rest of Wisconsin’s linebackers to make sure the veteran pocket passer doesn’t feel comfortable. If Lunt has too much time in pocket, he can easily make Wisconsin’s defense pay.
2, Winning in the red zone
If Wisconsin advances into Illinois’ red zone, will they be able to find ways of consistently capitalizing on the opportunities? One would think yes when you consider Illinois ranks 12th in red-zone defense but Wisconsin has struggled inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, ranking 12th in red-zone offense. Through seven games, UW has gone 25-for-31 (80.6 percent). UW’s best offense lately in red-zone situations has been Alec Ingold , who has three short-yardage touchdowns over the last two weeks. UW can’t leave points on the board, especially on the road.
3, Will Corey Clement play?
Clement traveled with the team this weekend but his status is still up in the air. It is still hard to say whether or not the junior will play or how many carries he will receive if he feels good to go. There’s no question that Wisconsin needs Clement, as the Badgers’ running game has been anemic and lacking consistency for most of the season. Illinois is only giving up 151.3 yards a game on the ground, meaning Wisconsin may need Clement’s experience to help keep drives alive.
4, Making smart decisions with the football
Stave has thrown an interception in two of Wisconsin’s first three Big Ten games, including one last week that cost UW points in Purdue’s red zone. Mistakes like that need to be avoided, especially against teams like Illinois that can make them pay. The last thing Wisconsin wants to do is give Lunt another opportunity on offense to connect with wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.7) and is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (100.2).
5, The play of T.J. Edwards
Edwards has been playing well over the last two weeks and leads UW in tackles over that short stretch. Named Big Ten freshman of the week after his career-high 16 tackles, including 1.5 TFLs, against Purdue, Edwards will make the return trip back to his home state and look to continue his success stopping team’s running game. The Illini only rush for 137.5 yards a game, which ranks 13th in the Big Ten. If Wisconsin can consistently pin Illinois in its own territory, Edwards should be able to cut it loose and prevent sustain drives.
Although Illinois has had two weeks to prepare for Wisconsin, the Badgers’ defense is talented enough to neutralize the Illinois offense. Wisconsin’s red-zone defense, which ranks first in the Big Ten, should be able to find ways to keep Illinois (last in the conference in red-zone offense) from consistently getting six. Wisconsin wins, 27-20.