Illini offense v. Badgers defense
QB Jon Beutjer (Sr. 6-5, 211) DE Darius Jones (Jr. 6-3, 268)
RB E.B. Halsey (Fr. 5-11, 185) LB Chris Catalano (Jr. 6-1, 206)
LT Sean Bubin (Sr. 6-7, 300) LB Jeff Mack (Sr. 6-0, 244)
LG Bryan Koch (Jr. 6-3, 285) LB Alex Lewis (Sr. 6-1, 237)
C Duke Preston (Jr. 6-5, 305) CB Scott Starks (Jr. 5-10, 168)
RG Matt Maddox (Fr. 6-4, 290) SS Ryan Aiello (Sr. 6-1, 196)
RT Bucky Babcock (Jr. 6-4, 285) FS Jim Leonhard (Jr. 5-8, 183)
TE Anthony McClellan (Jr. 6-3, 243) CB Levonne Rowan (So. 6-1, 178)
Illinois: WR Mark Kornfeld (Jr. 6-1, 200), FB Brad Haywood (Jr. 6-1, 225), TE Melvin Bryant (Fr. 6-5, 220), RB Morris Virgil (Jr. 5-10, 195), FB Jason Davis (So. 5-11, 220), WR Kendrick Jones (So. 6-1, 180).
Wisconsin: SS Joe Stellmacher (Fr. 6-1, 198), DE Joe Monty (Fr. 6-2, 246), DT/DE Nick Cochart (Sr. 6-1, 267), DT Kalvin Barrett (Jr. 6-2, 316), DT Lyle Maiava (So. 6-2, 294), LB LaMarr Watkins (So. 6-1, 216), FS Johnny White (Fr. 6-2, 202), CB Roderick Rogers (Fr. 6-2, 185), LB Kareem Timbers (Jr. 6-3, 209), LB Elliot Goode (So. 6-2, 240), LB Kyle McCorison (Sr. 6-0, 242).
Keys when the Illini have the ball…
Illinois will try to establish a running game early but whether or not they are successful, the Illini thrive on the arm of Jon Beutjer, who torched the Badgers last season and has not slowed down since.
Illinois' running game has been inconsistent, but true freshman running back E.B. Halsey is leading the Big Ten in all-purpose yards. Halsey is a dynamic weapon along the lines of Northwestern's Jason Wright. Halsey is a threat as a runner, receiver and return man and he is an above average blocker for his position.
The Illini running game could get a huge boost with the return of fullback Carey Davis, who is expected to start after missing the last three games with a staph infection. Davis is a bruising lead blocker and perhaps the best all-around fullback in the country. In the season-opener against Missouri, Davis had 10 catches for 66 yards and ran twice for seven yards in addition to punishing defenders with his blocking.
The biggest test for Wisconsin, though, will be trying to stop, or at least slow down, Beutjer's aerial assault. Beutjer threw for 430 yards in the loss to California last week and has 1,137 yards in four games this season. After losing four receivers to the NFL some feared Illinois' vaunted passing attack would dissipate. The new receiving corps, however, has stepped up and given Beutjer plenty of targets. The Illini signal-caller has completed 108 passes to 12 different receivers, of which six have caught 10 or more passes. Kelvin Hayden leads the team with 25 catches, 290 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The Badgers defense has struggled with depleted depth and inconsistent play so far this season, but is coming off its best performance against North Carolina. With cornerback Brett Bell out for the year with a shoulder injury, the secondary will face a stiff challenge, but the onus will be on the front four to put pressure on Beutjer, who was sacked five times last week. If Beutjer has time to throw, it will be a long day for the Badgers in Champaign.
Badgers offense v. Illini defense
Wisconsin projected starters Illinois projected starters
QB Jim Sorgi (Sr. 6-5, 190) DE Derrick Strong (Sr. 6-4, 245)
TB Booker Stanley (Fr. 5-10, 207) DT Charles Gilstrap (Sr. 6-3, 290)
FB Matt Bernstein (So. 6-2, 273) DT Jeff Ruffin (Sr. 6-4, 295)
WR Lee Evans (Sr. 5-11, 202) DE Scott Moss (So. 6-3, 260)
WR Brandon Williams (So. 5-11, 170) LB Antonio Mason (So. 6-0, 245)
LT Morgan Davis (Jr. 6-5, 326) LB Matt Sinclair (Jr. 6-3, 230)
LG Dan Buenning (Jr. 6-4, 298) LB Winston Taylor (Sr. 6-0, 240)
RG Jonathan Clinkscale (Jr. 6-3, 308) SS Marc Jackson (Sr. 6-1, 205)
RT Mike Lorenz (So. 6-5, 313) FS Travis Williams (So. 6-1, 185)
TE Tony Paciotti (Jr. 6-4, 263) CB Darnell Ray (Fr. 6-1, 160)
Wisconsin: TB Dwayne Smith (So. 5-11, 225), TB Anthony Davis (Jr. 5-8, 191), WR/TE Owen Daniels (So. 6-3, 213), WR Jonathan Orr (So. 6-3, 190), WR Darrin Charles (Jr. 6-6, 210), TE Jason Pociask (So. 6-3, 250), WR Ernest Mason (Fr. 5-11, 180), WR Brandon White (So. 6-3, 182), OT/TE Joe Thomas (Fr. 6-8, 280).
Illinois: LB Ty Myers (Sr. 6-4, 235), SS Eric McGoey (Sr. 6-3, 210), CB Alan Ball (Fr. 6-1, 175), DE Lee Robinson (Jr. 6-5, 260), CB Sharriff Abdullah (Fr. 5-8, 165).
Key when Wisconsin has the ball…
Anthony Davis' status is probable for Saturday, but he will likely only be used in spot duty. If Dwayne Smith is completely recovered from the groin injured he suffered against North Carolina last week, he will most likely start. In any case, look for Booker Stanley and Smith to split carries for an offense that will look to establish a consistent power running game in an effort to keep Beutjer off the field.
Wisconsin, though, should have its most prolific success going after Illinois' secondary. The Illini's inexperience at cornerback has shown so far this season and the Badgers cast of receivers should be able to take advantage.
Statistically, Illinois is far and away the best defense the Badgers have played so far this season (with apologies to UNLV). Wisconsin's offense looked healthy last week, but that was against a truly atrocious North Carolina defense. Now, a respectable Illini squad will test just how far the Badgers have progressed.
For fifth consecutive game, Wisconsin faces a team that likes to blitz, though North Carolina chose to use the blitz sparingly against the Badgers. With end Derek Strong and linebacker Matt Sinclair leading the way, Illinois' pass rush has been potent this season. Strong had two sacks last year against the Badgers. If Wisconsin can pick up the blitz consistently and control the line of scrimmage, the Badgers should put plenty of points on the board.
Special Teams matchup
Wisconsin specialists Illinois specialists
P R.J. Morse (Jr. 6-1, 246) Steve Weatherford (So. 6-4, 205)
PK Mike Allen (Jr. 6-2, 186) John Gockman (Sr. 5-10, 170)
KO Scott Campbell (Sr. 6-0, 245) Gockman
KR Brandon Williams (So. 5-11, 170) E.B. Halsey (Fr. 5-11, 185)
PR Jim Leonhard (Jr. 5-8, 183) Christian Morton (Sr. 6-1, 180)
LS Matt Katula (Jr. 6-6, 282) Mike Gomez (Sr. 6-5, 220)
Each team has struggled mightily with special teams breakdowns. North Carolina torched the Badgers last week with 246 kick return yards on six attempts. The Illini do not have a return man to compare with Michael Waddell, but kick returners E.B. Halsey and Morris Virgil and punt returners Halsey and Christian Morton are quick and fast players who could pose problems if Wisconsin has not straightened out its coverage teams.
The Illini have also had their own coverage struggles this year, notably allowing 14.8 yards per punt return. This could be the game where the Badgers' Jim Leonhard breaks free.
Each team's punter has a good average, but opponents have been very successful on returns. Illinois' Steve Weatherford leads the Big Ten with a 47.1-yard average and Wisconsin's R.J. Morse has significantly improved this season, averaging a solid 40.9 yards per punt. The Badgers, though, are allowing 16.1 yards per punt return.
Though each has struggled, and the Illini's specialists have made more costly errors, Illinois has an edge here because of kicker John Gockman. Against UCLA, a 43-yard, potentially game-tying kick went wide, but Gockman has the leg strength to be a difference maker. He was the team's long-range kicker the past two seasons, hitting 10-of-14 from beyond 40 yards, including a 48-yard game-tying kick that sent the Illini to overtime with Ohio State last season. This year Gockman is seven-for-nine with a long of 48 yards.
Wisconsin kicker Mike Allen looked just fine last week after missing the beginning of the season with a hip injury. Allen, though, only attempted extra points and one short kick, so it is difficult to know whether he will be the kicker he was at the end of last season.
This game will likely become a shootout. Few defenses matchup well with the Illinois aerial attack and Wisconsin in recent seasons has had more than its share of problems with well-honed passing games. The Akron game early this season is testament to that. The Badgers, though, should be able to put up plenty of points as well.
Wisconsin's superior running game, and Illinois' greater propensity to self destruct, will be key factors Saturday. Neither of these teams is flying high heading into the Big Ten season, but Wisconsin has three wins under its belt and should find a way to pull this one out in the end.
BadgerNation.com forecast: Wisconsin 37, Illinois 31