CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chalk this one up to guts for the University of Wisconsin.
Already leaving two offensive starters and a defense starter at home, the Badgers lost three more key offensive contributors before it was all said and done and still found a way to gut out a 24-13 victory over Illinois at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
It was the sixth straight win by Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) over Illinois, the longest by the Badgers in the series history, and made the Badgers’ bowl eligible for the 14th-straight season, extending their school record.
It wasn’t easy, especially not with player after player going down.
Already without tailback Corey Clement and tight end Austin Traylor, Wisconsin lost quarterback Joel Stave to a head injury suffered in the second drive of the game. He returned on the next series but couldn’t finish the drive, turning over the reins to backup quarterback Bart Houston.
In his first extensive game action under center, Houston finished with 232 passing yards on 22-for-33 passing. He threw a pair of interceptions in the end zone but also a pair of touchdowns, not to mention leading the Badgers to 10 points on his first two drives following Stave’s injury. It was his clutch play late that stood out even more.
After Illinois (4-3, 1-2) took a 13-10 lead midway through the third quarter off a 36-yard run by Ke’Shawn Vaughn, the Badgers lost receiver Rob Wheelwright (left leg) at the start of their next drive and center Dan Voltz (right leg) at the end of the drive. That didn’t stop UW from going 86 yards on eight plays to retake the lead off an Alec Ingold two-yard touchdown – his fourth in three weeks.
And when UW needed insurance, Houston delivered. Chewing 7 minutes, 39 seconds off the clock on a 13-play drive, Houston went 3-for-3 on third down, delivering the dagger on third-and-goal from the nine on a touchdown pass to Alex Erickson. That play gave UW a two-score lead with 9:42 remaining.
With UW’s top two tailbacks out, Erickson finished the game leading the Badgers in receiving (10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown) and rushing (four for 81).
Other than the 36-yard touchdown run, Wisconsin’s defense gave up next to nothing. Not only did UW hold Illinois to 333 total yards, the Badgers held Illinois to 55 rushing yards and picked off quarterback Wes Lunt off a tip by TJ Edwards and the grab by Michael Caputo late in the fourth quarter. It was just the sixth interception by Lunt in over 500 attempts at Illinois.
Wiscosin returns home next weekend for a Halloween matchup with Rutgers, set to kick off at 11 a.m.
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9 plays, 18 yards, 4:05 TOP, 4:21 left
FG Taylor Zalewski 37-yard
Key Play: After the offense/special teams could flip the field position, Sojourn Shelton appeared to register Wisconsin's first interception by a cornerback since November 2013, but was ruled incomplete after a video reviewed. Instead of a first down for UW at the 20, Illinois got the ball back at the UW 12.
11 plays, 89 yards, 5:12 TOP, 14:09 left
Rob Wheelwright 23-yard pass from Bart Houston (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: With Joel Stave in the locker room with a possible concussion, Bart Houston delivered a perfect pass to Rob Wheelwright, who skied over the defenders to make the catch and then successfully dove for the goal line.
12 plays, 59 yards, 5:56 TOP, 7:03 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 26
Key Play: After a holding penalty on Dan Voltz pushed UW to a first-and-20, Houston hit Derek Watt in the flat for 12 yards down to the Illinois 19, a key play to get UW into a managable yardage situation.
9 plays, 70 yards, 2:45 TOP, 4:23 left
FG Taylor Zalewski 25
Key Play: After dropping an interception that led to three points for Illinois, Shelton appeared to get crossed up at the line of scrimmage, allowing Malik Turner to be wide open over the middle of the field and catch a floating 37-yard pass at the UW 25.
5 plays, 86 yards, 1:41 TOP, 7:48 left
Ke'Shawn Vaughn 36-yard run (Zalewski kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin's stout rush defense broke down in a hurry, as someone lost outside contain on the cutback lane and Tanner McEvoy missed a tackle in the middle of the field to spring Vaughn.
8 plays, 86 yards, 3:43 TOP, 4:05 left
Alec Ingold 2-yard run (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin quickly snatched momentum back from the Illini, as Alex Erickson went 56 yards on the jet sweep on the first play of the series, giving UW a first down at the Illinois 30.
13 plays, 65 yards, 7:39 TOP, 9:42 left
Alex Erickson 9-yard pass from Houston (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: On third-and-goal from the Illinois 9, Houston stood his ground in the pocket, took a shot and delivered a strike to Erickson. On the drive, Houston went 3-for-3 on third down, completing all the passes to Erickson for 38 yards.
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