When Wisconsin builds a 28-point lead in the opening half and is in clock-chew mode, the Badgers kept the ball on the ground on 29 of their final 30 plays and threw only three times in the second half. Hard to grade a quarterback when they don’t do much.
Hornibrook’s best throw was a play-action pass on UW’s fourth drive of the first quarter, faking the handoff to Clement, briefly rolling out to his left and hitting Clement for a 24-yard gain to the Illinois 5. It was well designed and executed since the linebacker took a step up to stop the run before back pedaling into run coverage. By that time it was too late.
Hornibrook did have his hair-pulling moments, like throwing a pass into triple coverage into the end zone well past the line of scrimmage on third down. Eventually he’ll have to learn that leaving points on the field matter.
Granted this wasn’t much of a challenge for Wisconsin’s quarterbacks, but the Badgers haven’t had a 100-yard passer in the last three weeks and have won every game Think about that.
Going against the 84th-best rush defense in the country, Wisconsin used the Illini to deliver a much-needed outbreak on the ground, finishing with a season-high 363 yards and got four touchdowns on the ground. Three of those came from Clement for his second career three touchdown game. They were all fairly easy runs, too, as the line’s execution up front either made him untouched going into the end zone or not contacted until the goal line.
Clement had runs of 23, 48, 17 and a handful of those came on outside zone plays where he can bounce off a player’s blocks. His patience has been a key to his success over the past month.
Dare Ogunbowale had a big game against Nebraska, a quiet day against Northwestern and another big day against Illinois. His first carry went for 48 yards on a similar draw play that killed the Huskers and his third went for 17 yards on a zone-read with Houston under center. Those big busts helped him average 14.7 yards on his seven carries and give him his second 100-yard day in the last three games.
“It’s been great for me taking advantage of what I get,” Ogunbowale said. “Being big in pass protection and passing down, that’s been big for me Also third down running the ball. It’s been good and I’ve been excited for it. It was a fun game, fun to see guys getting in the game and celebrate with them.”
Bradrick Shaw joked that he was a bit more tired than usual, which is understandable. He hadn’t received 19 carries since high school, but the redshirt freshman was productive and generated a career-high 80 yards.
“My mindset is to not let any one person bring me down and try to break as many tackles as I can,” Shaw.
Alec Ingold had three carries for eight yards and all picked up first downs in third-and-short situations. He delivered a crippling block that made Clement’s first touchdown look easy and a 15-yard catch that set up a first down at the Illinois 5.
With only 14 attempts and eight completed passes, there weren’t many opportunities here for the receivers and tight ends. Break it down even farther, only five of the eight completions went to receivers.
There were still some highlights, however. Jazz Peavy had a team-high three catches for 29 yards, but his 17-yard catch was perfectly run. Running a 7-yard curl, Peavy caught the pass and turned inside to the middle of the field, catching the defender flat footed and gaining eight yards after the catch. It was a first down play that got UW to the Illinois 34.
His touchdown catch was also well designed, liming up on the far side of the formation behind Rob Wheelwright (1 catch, 11 yards). At the snap, Wheelwright ran a go route and both defenders went with him, leaving Peavy wide open on the inside slant for the easy score.
Clement’s 23-yard run that setup the first touchdown was perfectly blocked by Jon Dietzen on a pull, but Troy Fumagalli delivered the key block in the backfield on the strong safety that made the difference between a tackle for loss and a big bust.
Offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph stuck with the same starting five for the majority of the game until the second half and the group delivered in countless ways against a talented defensive line.
Ryan Ramczyk delivered a terrific pull block to spring Ogunbowale’s big run. Each week he delivers a play that make the N.F.L. scouts in attendance salivate. Kudos as well to Beau Benzschawel on that play, combining on a double team with center Michael Deiter before disengaging and taking out a linebacker.
The one sack UW gave up was more on the coverage than any one specific player.
When the Badgers wanted to run clock in the second half, the line helped pave the way for three drives of 11+ plays and 6+ minutes in the second half. UW scored more points in the second half (17) than Illinois ran plays (16).
Four of Kendrick Foster’s runs equaled 63 yards but his other 11 carries only equaled 12. Wisconsin didn’t register a sack in the game (they were only on the field for 45 plays) but the line created tons of gaps for Wisconsin’s linebackers to jet through to harass the quarterbacks and the tailbacks.
Conor Sheehy half tackle for loss was the only notable play and no UW defensive lineman registered more than two tackles, but the group played a big part in UW holding Illinois to 0-for-9 on third downs. The Badgers haven’t done that since at least 1998.
Another week equaled another balanced performance by one of the best linebacker groups in the country.
Ryan Connelly led the defense – which was on the field less than 18 minutes - with six tackles and added 1.5 tackles for loss. He also delivered his first career interception at the end of the second quarter that he returned 12 yards to the Illinois 10. His stop on a third-down draw play with Illinois was in UW’s red zone was also critical and prevented a momentum shift.
Two of T.J. Edwards’ five tackles were for loss, a new career high, but his second-down stop on Ke’Shawn Vaughn was impressive. With Illinois sitting at the Wisconsin 25 and going read option, Edwards read the quarterback, had to good side-to-side football and filled the running lane to limit the gain to only two yards. Illinois missed a 39-yard field goal two plays later.
Vince Biegel delivered one of his best statistical games of the season, finishing with four tackles and a TFL. He also had a quarterback hurry, but he was kicking himself for missing a safety on the opening series.
T.J. Watt delivered a pair of quarterback rushes that led to big plays for the defense. At the end of the first, Watt’s blitz around the right tackle went unblocked. And while he missed the sack, it flushed quarterback Jeff George Jr. out of the pocket and made him scramble to his right. His throw on the run to his wide-open receiver sailed and safety Leo Musso made a leaping grab along the sidelines.
His second rush saw him move across the left tackle and left guard to find an alley to George Jr. That pressure forced George Jr. to hurry his throw and into the arms of Connelly for UW’s fourth interception. Watt finished with three tackles (no solos), one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and a hurry.
Illinois had a couple big busts to get them inside the UW 20 in the second quarter, but immense pressure on first, second and third down forced the Illinois to kick a field goal. They never returned to the UW red zone.
“We want to come out and dominate all facets of the game,” outside linebacker Garret Dooley (two tackles) said. “Obviously, there are areas of the game where we can improve on but only allowing three points, that’s a heck of a game as a unit.”
Musso was in the right place at the right time on both of his picks and continues to play sound football at the free safety spot.
D'Cota Dixon was thinking touchdown when George Jr. sailed a pass on third-and-11. He’ll have to settle for a 40-yard interception return that set up UW’s second score. The pass was poorly thrown and the blocking down by Musso, Connelly and Lubern Figaro was outstanding
Derrick Tindal and Sojourn Shelton each delivered blanketed coverage on receiver Malik Turner, as the Illini’s best receiver only had one catch for 12 yards. He made that on a quick slant over the middle.
Figaro had some issues, appearing to take too sharp of an angle and losing outside containment on an 18-yard Reggie Corbin run. He also gave up a 35-yard completion – Illinois’ longest play from scrimmage – when Justin Hardee ran right by him on a go route (Figaro appeared to be thinking Hardee was going to break on the route). It appeared those two things made UW put in Natrell Jamerson at nickel on the final series of the second quarter, seeing him narrowly intercept a pass.
Wisconsin’s secondary made George Jr. look so bad that Lovie Smith had no choice but to put in senior Wes Lunt – who was struggling with a back injury and was only available in emergency situations – to quarterback the final two quarters.
The biggest play the secondary gave up was 39 yards on a tremendous catch by Desmond Cain along the sideline. Too bad it was wiped out by a holding call.
“They are coming in having nothing to lose,” Shelton said. “It’s kind of us that had to make sure that we were on our A games. We knew there were going to be a lot of deep balls thrown. Even on film they throw a lot of shots down the field. We just knew we were going to have to play the passing game pretty strong.”
With the addition of Connelly's pick late in the half, the Badgers now have 14 interceptions through 10 games, the most since the team had 16 during in 2011. Twelve have come from the secondary, with Dixon leading the team with four, Tindal and Musso each adding three and Shelton grabbing two.
Wisconsin had been working on a fake punt for the last several weeks and picked a perfect time to dial it up. A direct snap to Dooley and blocking up front worked perfectly, generating a five-yard gain on fourth-and-1. Too bad the offense couldn’t do anything with it.
Andrew Endicott didn’t miss a field goal for the first time since the Ohio State game, hitting from 37 and 21 and making all his extra points. P.J. Rosowski delivered six of his nine kickoffs for touchbacks, and the coverage unit was sound on the three that were returned, as Foster didn’t have any longer than 18.
Anthony Lotti punted four times and put two inside the 20 and one right on the 20. Of his 34 punts this year, Lotti has put 16 inside the 20.
Jamerson got his feet wet last week after missing six weeks with a broken left fibula, but the junior made a tremendous impact in the opening quarter. He took the opening kickoff back 25 yards to the UW 27 and delivered a punishing hit on Darius Mosely for a minus-1 return at the end of UW”s first drive.
As established above, head coach Paul Chryst had some well-designed play calls that worked to perfection. One that hasn’t been discussed is Houston’s touchdown throw to Kyle Penniston. On first and goal at the 7, Penniston lined up next to Ramczyk and Fumagalli was to the outside of Penniston. Houston faked the handoff to Clement and bootlegged to the right. Penniston came behind the line of scrimmage unaccounted for and was wide open for the walk-in score. UW went 8-for-8 in the red zone with six touchdowns.
“Once we got to the red zone, guys really locked it down,” Penniston said. “We can’t stand it when we have to kick field goals. We really do take pride in getting to the red zone. That’s one of the things we focus on in the offseason.”
The only one that didn’t was Clement’s throw-back pass to Houston. It apparently had worked in practice and Houston’s toss to Clement was on the mark, but Clement’s throw was behind Houston and Houston’s right foot slipped from underneath him. The play also wasn’t well blocked on the left side, so somebody missed an assignment.
Justin Wilcox’s defense smothered Illinois’ offense and made sure the Badgers didn’t avoid a letdown playing their team with a losing record since Sept.17