CHAMPAIGN, Ill – With quarterback Joel Stave injured on the sidelines and the Badgers’ top two tailbacks back in Madison, Alex Erickson became a favorite target of Bart Houston and a high-value option of head coach Paul Chryst.
The senior receiver made his presence known by leading Wisconsin in both rushing and receiving in the Badgers’ 24-13 victory over Illinois at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
"When your number is called you try to step up and make a play for your team," said Erickson.
Erickson’s contributions in the passing game were expected. Entering the weekend as the team’s leading receiver (42 for 549), Erickson caught a career-highW 10 passes for 96 yards. On third down, Erickson caught six of nine targets for 65 yards and a touchdown.
But his big impact came in the running game, primarily on the jet sweep. Seeing it on film as a play UW could take advantage of, Erickson ran four times for 81 yards.
"We thought going in we had a chance (for a big hit)," said Chryst. "I thought he ran extremely well."
The biggest hit in the game came shortly after Illinois retook the lead on a 36-yard run by Ke’shawn Vaughn, giving the Illini a 13-10 lead with 7:48 remaining in the third quarter. On UW’s first play of the next drive, Erickson took the jet sweep 56 yards down the sideline. Not only was it the game’s longest play from scrimmage, UW flipped field position from its own 14 to the Illinois 30, quieting the crowd.
UW scored a touchdown seven plays later and never trailed again.
"They had the momentum and I think that play helped us get the momentum back," said Erickson. "To be able to finish that drive was huge."
Banged up – Part One
Clement, who underwent sports hernia surgery more than three weeks ago, was cleared last week but didn’t play in the 24-7 win over Purdue. Although increasing his workload over the previous week, Clement was ruled out after Thursday’s practice. He hasn’t played since the season opener against Alabama.
Deal (ankle) also missed his second straight game after being injured in the first quarter against Nebraska. The absence of Clement and Deal, who is UW’s second-leading rusher with 81 carries for 357 yards and four touchdowns, meant junior Dare Ogunbowale and true freshman Alec Ingold remained the top two backs.
The duo combined for 68 rushing yards on 29 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per carry. Ingold was responsible for the lone rushing touchdown, a 2-yard run late in the third quarter that proved to be the game winner.
Goldberg injured his knee in last week’s 24-7 victory over Purdue. True freshman nose tackle Olive Sagapolu made his second start of the season in his place.
Kicker Andrew Endicott (leg) also did not make the trip, forcing senior Jack Russell to handle the kickoffs. He averaged 59.4 yards on his five kickoffs with one touchback.
Banged Up – Part Two
Chryst said Stave was cleared to return following a first quarter head injury but decided to stick with Houston with the offense in a rhythm.
Stave exited with a head injury after being sacked on the Badgers’ second drive. He returned briefly on the next drive, but was replaced by Houston after six plays.
“He went out and doctors went through the protocol,” said Chryst. “He went back in for that one drive. You could tell the way he wasn’t getting the plays, (we) thought ‘You know what, you just don’t know.’ He was cleared but we thought Bart was going to be our best chance.”
Chryst did not have updated on receiver Rob Wheelwright (left leg) and center Dan Voltz (right leg), who were injured on the final drive of the third quarter.
Extra Points: A gusty afternoon didn’t affect the kicking game but did alter how Wisconsin’s defense prepared for each series, preparing for more deep passes when the Illini had the wind at their back. Illinois completed passes of 37, 29 and 31 with the wind behind them in the second and fourth quarter … Wisconsin held the ball for 40:09, a season high for time of possession ... Redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver last week for the rest of the season, made his Wisconsin debut on punt team.