The Badgers were a top five team and on a 14-game winning streak entering their contest with Illinois, but between dropped passes, a nagging groin injury to running back P.J. Hill and quarterback Tyler Donovan's inconsistencies, the offense had a rough day developing a rhythm. On top of everything, add the loss of Donovan's go-to-guy Swan, [who left with a left leg injury at the end of the first half] and this was the cherry on top of a bitter sundae for the Badgers against the Fighting Illini.
There were a lot of factors missing from the Illinois game, with one being that the wide receivers did not show up to perform. With too many dropped passes and so many missed opportunities for the Badgers, it was not a mystery why Wisconsin lost its first game. Travis Beckum did step up for the Badgers to make some great plays, but great plays did not turn into points.
"Travis is a competitor," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He made a couple big first downs [for us]."
Luke Swan was hurt late in the second quarter and, as it turns out, had a tremendous effect on an already faltering offense. After all of the injuries Wisconsin has endured so far in 2007, big red could not afford to have another vital weapon out of the lineup.
The injury list was limited to the wide receivers, as Hill tried to gut it out despite being hampered with a groin injury. Hill slowly pulled out of the game towards the end of the second half and was nowhere to be found on the Badgers first-and-goal series at the end of the second quarter and their first drive of the second half.
Without question, Hill is a vital part, and one of the few consistent pieces, of a struggling Badger offense. Hill finished with 83 rushing yards against Illinois, the first time the sophomore was held under 100 yards since the season opener. Hill was averaging 133.4 yards a game entering the game and already had nine touchdowns under his belt. It is apparent that the offense needs a consistent running game and without Hill, the Badgers do not have one.
Without the success of the running game, Donovan had 49 pass attempts against Illinois. He passed for over 392 yards - which on paper looks nice - but watching the highlights, one realizes those essential passes were few and far between. Donovan never developed his rhythm, appearing unsure of his wide receivers and himself.
"This one definitely hurts," Donovan said. "You got to take it and learn from it."
He is young and this is only his eighth game as a starter – meaning he has a lot of time to progress and to settle down. Still, the Badgers were on the verge of making a comeback when Donovan threw an interception, caught by Kevin Mitchell that changed the game.
"We had two big turnovers," Bielema said in reference to the interceptions. "[The second one] got away from [Tyler] a little bit. The bottom line is to get a victory we need to be clean in all phases."
Bielema is right, if the Badgers can make some adjustments they will be a threat.
The winning streak for the Badgers was historic. It was the longest winning streak in the country and also in school history. Before today, Wisconsin had not lost in 13 months. A lot of the guys are freshmen and they have not experienced losing especially at this magnitude. Two things can stem from this loss. Either the Badgers rally around one another and fight to win or they let this loss effect the rest of their season.
"I told the guys I didn't think I would go through my entire coaching career never losing a game again," Bielema said about the team's winning streak. "We don't want to do it. There are two things that come from a loss: the beginning of a losing streak or the taste in your mouth and not let it happen again."