1. Wrapping Up
This is an obvious one given the tackling troubles we saw last week. Illinois has a number of playmakers, from Juice Williams to Arrelious Benn to Rashard Mendenhall, and Wisconsin will continue to allow the big play if the tackling does not improve substantially across the board. Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing while Wisconsin ranks 7th in rush defense despite playing primarily passing teams to this point. Illinois has also hit on 24 plays to this point of 20+ yards, and not just from the big three mentioned above.
2. Back Lehman, Back
J Lehman leads the Big Ten in tackles and caused the Badgers and P.J. Hill trouble last year as Illinois packed the box. In my last few keys to the game, I have called for offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to commit to the run, but I think the Badgers will need to throw quite a bit today in order to have a real chance to run. Lehman in particular needs to focus on coverage so he can't simply attack the line of scrimmage. Illinois ranks 9th in passing yards allowed and 7th in passing efficiency defense, so this is where the Badgers need to attack.
3. Unexpected Contributions Outside
Continuing on the theme of throwing the ball, the Badgers needs to get someone else to step up outside. Luke Swan did not have the same openings last week, and with solid Vontae Davis presumably drawing the assignment today, we have to presume that the Badgers will need contributions elsewhere. We know Chryst will attempt to get Travis Beckum involved, but one of the other wideouts will need to have a solid game, much like Kyle Jefferson hit on the big play last week.
Just as backup corner Aaron Henry has been disruptive for the Badgers coming on the blitz, backup safety Justin Sanders for the Illini has been a similar nuisance. Sanders has 3 sacks this year and 3 forced fumbles. Wisconsin must account for him in passing situations.
5. Déjà vu All Over Again
Another one I will keep throwing against the wall until it sticks is turnover creation. The Badgers have forced just 4 turnovers in 5 games, simply an unacceptable number. They have managed to squeak by, primarily at home, but on the road against a solid Illinois team, the defense simply has to start making some plays to change field position and create scoring opportunities for the offense.
As many have pointed out, this stands as a key game in the Badger schedule. A win puts them in solid position to contend for the Big Ten crown, while a loss possibly knocks them into fighting it out for 3rd or 4th place. I am extremely worried about the Badgers stopping the run of the Illini. I think they will sell out and force Willliams to try to beat them through the air, but even then, have not seen enough tackling consistency this season to believe that the Badgers will contain the run. Wisconsin had trouble running against Illinois last year, and with the experienced Illini defense back primarily intact, I would suspect similar results. It all comes down to turnovers. If Wisconsin can get to a +2, I think they win a close game. If not, I think they lose a close one. Final prediction: Illinois 27, Wisconsin 24.