In the Badgers' 41-24 win over Illinois (2-6 overall, 0-5 Big Ten) Saturday, Calhoun was king of the field. He rushed for 197 yards and five touchdowns, while catching two passes for 37 yards. Facing one of the worst run defenses in the nation, Wisconsin (8-1, 5-1) unleashed its not-so-secret weapon at the first snap.
On Wisconsin's first drive, Calhoun had 53 yards on nine carries, including a six-yard scamper into the end zone for Wisconsin's first score of the game. On the first four plays of Wisconsin's second drive, Calhoun rushed four times for 21 yards, setting up a 62-yard touchdown pass from Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco to receiver Brandon Williams.
Calhoun, who was held to less than 20 yards in the first half of each of his last two games, amassed 97 rushing yards and two touchdowns by halftime.
"He's beautiful, man, just running the ball, the way he sees the holes, the way he makes the cuts, sets up his cuts," receiver Brandon Williams said. "Then being able to turn on the speed and stops and goes at the same time, it's just a thing of beauty. It kind of reminds me of (San Diego Chargers tailback) LaDainian Tomlinson."
Calhoun put up 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the second half. His first touchdown of the third quarter came after reserve linebacker Jonathan Casillas blocked his second punt of the year. Illinois punter Steve Weatherford recovered the punt at the Illini 8 but the Badgers took possession of the ball on downs. Calhoun rushed for two yards to the Illinois six and then went for the touchdown on the next play, putting Wisconsin up 27-10.
Calhoun also scored on a six-yard run at the end of the third quarter. But his biggest touchdown of the day, a 46-yard sprint into the end zone, came in the waning minutes of the game, when Wisconsin was up 34-24. The touchdown and subsequent extra point made the final score 41-24.
"His speed really showed up today because a couple of those runs, their defense had things cornered, it looked like they had the right leverage, and he just outran everybody to the corner of the end zone," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I think the last touchdown, obviously, was attributed to his speed. Patience first — (fullback Chris) Pressley had a tremendous block on the corner — and then to tightrope down and outrun some angles down the boundary to get a touchdown, that was all speed."
Calhoun was clearly Wisconsin's feature back but Illinois' dual run threat — Pierre Thomas and E. B. Halsey — took a back seat to quarterback Tim Brasic, who finished with 116 rushing yards, more than Thomas and Halsey combined. Wisconsin's defense, for the second week straight, struggled to keep a mobile quarterback contained.
"Just trying to keep him in the pocket (was a challenge)," said right defensive tackle Mike Newkirk, who finished with two tackle assists. "Just trying to get a good pass rush and as soon as you pick a side, he's running to the other side. We've got our linebackers and DBs back in coverage so . . . they can't really help us out as much. We're doing everything we can to get the ball and he's over there running with it."
Brasic's mobility was instrumental in sustaining Illini drives. He rushed for nine first downs, including four on third-and-long situations. He ran for a first down during three drives that ended in Illini scores.
Brasic was also 20-of-39 passing with a career-high 277 yards and two touchdowns, keeping Illinois in the game into the fourth quarter with big plays from multiple receivers. Tight end Melvin Bryant had two catches for 11 yards but that included a six-yard touchdown catch. Illini receiver Kyle Hudson had 10 catches for 114 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that narrowed Wisconsin's lead to 34-24. And fullback Jason Davis hauled in just one catch — for 61 yards.
"Defensively we gave up way too many big plays," Alvarez said. "Their quarterback did a nice job of moving the chains with his feet. They had a couple schemed plays that… they baited some of our young [defensive backs], probably hadn't seen some of those things before, and took advantage of it."
The Badgers gave up 538 yards of offense, the sixth time this season the defense has allowed at least 400 yards. Wisconsin's defense did stop Brasic and Co. on two key drives that could have resulted in Illini touchdowns. After Casillas blocked a punt that led to a Wisconsin touchdown, Illinois responded with a 67-yard march down to the Wisconsin 13, setting up a third-and-two situation. Badger defensive tackle Nick Hayden stopped Halsey for a loss of three yards, however, pushing the Illini back to the Wisconsin 16 and forcing a field goal. Jason Reda's kick from 34 yards out sailed wide left and the Illini came up empty-handed.
Similarly, Wisconsin stopped Illinois on another key drive at the top of the fourth quarter. Illinois marched 76 yards, all the way to the Wisconsin 2. But the Illini received a holding penalty that pushed them back to the 12-yard line. Brasic threw an incomplete pass, facing pressure from will linebacker Dontez Sanders. On the next play, mike linebacker Andy Crooks sacked the quarterback for a loss of 10 yards, setting up a 39-yard field goal for Reda, which he again missed wide left.
"On Jason's behalf, his hip has been bothering him all week. And we didn't know if he would be playing." Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "The wind blew one of his kicks back, and I'm not sure what happened on the other one." Reda made a 23-yard attempt midway through the second quarter.
Wisconsin struggled to stop an Illini offense hungry for a win after coming off an embarrassing 63-10 loss to Penn State last week. But the defensive stands that led to missed field goals gave the Badgers confidence.
"We had some big stands," said strong safety Joe Stellmacher, who finished with a team-high 12 tackles and an interception. "They'd drive down the field and we'd get a sack or something and stall their drive. That was big for us."
Wisconsin's defense, which had not registered a sack since Oct.1, sacked Brasic four times.
"[Brasic] was scrambling so sometimes he'd be rushing and the guys are blocking you from the inside, he scrambles outside and then you can get off that block and make plays," Newkirk said.
Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco completed 14 passes on 22 attempts for 225 yards and the touchdown pass to Williams. Williams finished with a team-high 98 yards on three receptions. Receiver Jonathan Orr caught five passes for 41 yards and tight end Jason Pociask hauled in two catches for 20 yards.