1. The Juice is Loose
It used to be that when you played Illinois, all you had to worry about was Juice Williams beating you on a busted play. Allowing him to sit in the pocket and throw the ball was a recipe for success. Well, Williams is still the same threat with his feet, but he has developed into a player that can beat you with the pass as well. Williams leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency while completing 60% of his passes. It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that the Badgers simply have to keep some sort of control on Williams in order to win.
2. Slowing Down the Irresistible Force
As well as Juice Williams has played, he is just one cog in a larger offensive machine. The Illini lead the Big Ten in total offense (485 yards per game) and in addition to their league leading passing attack, also rank second in rushing offense with 205 yards per game. Their well-balanced attack poses matchup problems all over the field. I believe the key to beating Illinois is manhandling the run on early downs. There are simply too many options if they are looking at 2nd and 4's all afternoon. Stopping the spread requires horizontal discipline in order to limit running lanes for the Illini ground game. Even though the Badger defense has had problems from time to time this year, their personnel actually matches up fairly well with regards to accomplishing this goal.
The Badger receivers played perhaps their finest game last week against Iowa (though that may not be saying a whole lot). The problem is that with a skilled corner like Davis, times are going to be very tough for the Badger receivers. Davis should be able to blanket one side of the field, and allow the Illini safeties to provide run support as needed. The Illini passing defense isn't all the special beyond Davis, so the Badger QB (presumably Dustin Sherer) will have to make good reads to find the non-Davis covered wideout.
I normally stick to the typical OL vs. DL type analysis, but Illinois has two pretty good linebackers in Miller and Wilson, who obviously will be key in trying to stop Wisconsin's tailback trio. With their QB play, Wisconsin simply has to get a consistent run game, and that means getting their O-line into that second level of the defense in order to create some gaps. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it appears that Gabe Carimi and Kraig Urbik are once again out of action, so this job just got tougher.
5. Fickle Fans
The Wisconsin fandom is not happy right now. With a bad start, things could turn ugly for the Badgers as I suspect the fans will be quick to turn on the struggling team. With morale almost assuredly low, how things go in the first quarter could determine the emotional tone of the game.
As I stated last week, I still think there is some good football in this team (somewhere). However, there are simply too many issues in too many places to expect a quick-fix against a solid Illinois team. The topper is that this is a banged up team. They are lacking depth in key areas and will have a number of players at less than 100%. Throw in major issues at quarterback and I believe it would be foolish to expect a Badger win. Frankly, I think a well-played game (much like the Ohio State performance) would be a nice step up. I like them to hang around, but I will have to take the Badger opponents for the third time in a row: Illini 34-Wisconsin 24.