When: Sat., Oct. 24; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Champaign, IL; Memorial Stadium
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 38-36-7
Last Meeting: Wisconsin 38-28 (2014)
Line: Wisconsin -6.5
The Badgers and Illini are the only two West Division teams with only one conference loss, but unfortunately for both, those losses came to the only undefeated team Iowa. Thus, this is an elimination game of sorts, as falling effectively three games behind the Hawkeyes probably ends title chances this season. Let’s count to 5 and determine which contender survives and becomes the primary chase to Iowa during the back half of the schedule!
1 Burning Question: Can either of these teams find a running game to complement a solid quarterback?
For years, Wisconsin has been a team that has built a reputation as a grinder, winning with dominant running backs and defense. While the defense has held up the usual standards in 2015, the running game has struggled thanks to Corey Clement’s injury and inconsistency from backups like Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale. Indeed, the Badgers currently sit a shocking 12th in the conference by running for only 154.6 yards per game.
As ineffective as Wisconsin’s rushing attack has been, Illinois is even worse. The Illini rank 13th in the conference with 137.5 yards per game rushing, with the best contributor being Ke’Shawn Vaughn thanks to injury problems by starter Josh Ferguson (UPDATE: Ferguson ruled out again for this game as well). The Illinois offense has therefore relied heavily on Wes Lunt and the passing game.
Likewise, Wisconsin is also led by a senior quarterback who has overcome adversity during his career to be in a good position now, that being Joel Stave. It’s clear that both teams will find openings in the passing game, even against defenses ready to stop it, but the team that discovers a running game should win this game and perhaps be in better position to make a run through the remaining schedule.
2 Key Stats
— 6. That’s the number of sacks Illinois has had in six games, by far the worst in the conference. In a game where the key to slowing Wisconsin’s offense will be shutting down Joel Stave, it would be nice to get pressure on a quarterback that struggles when such pressure is applied. However, the Illini defensive front has not been able to get off blocks against what appears to be worse lines than what Wisconsin brings to the field this Saturday. That does not bode well for Illinois to disrupt the most important Wisconsin weapon, the quarterback.
— 10.9. That’s the number of points Wisconsin gives up per game, which ranks 3rd nationally (behind only Michigan in the Big Ten). The only two teams to generate much offense at all against Wisconsin have been Alabama and Nebraska. Illinois has a decent offense, but it does not compare to what the Cornhuskers and Crimson Tide bring to the field. That means Illinois will likely struggle to reach its season average in points, and that’s problematic against a team as consistent as Wisconsin.
3 Key Players
Joe Schobert, Wisconsin LB — Following a 2014 season where Schobert achieved three sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss, this Badger linebacker has been an even more disruptive force in 2015. He currently ranks second in the conference with 9.5 sacks and second in tackles-for-loss as well with 14.5. With a pass-heavy offense on the docket this week, look for Schobert to have another big performance with the pass rush (and run contain) and perhaps take the lead in one of these statistical categories away from Carl Nassib at Penn State.
Geronimo Allison, Illinois WR — The best weapon Illinois and QB Wes Lunt has at his disposal is Allison, who has put up 601 receiving yards on 40 receptions this season. That leads the conference as far as receptions per game, and if he can find the end zone a bit more (only three touchdowns in 2015), then this team has a chance to knock off better teams like Wisconsin. If Illinois is going to defend the home field and win this game, Allison will need to be a big factor and perhaps get one or two scores against the Wisconsin defense.
Taylor Barton, Illinois SS — The Illini pass defense ranks in the top 25 nationally in yards per game as well as in pass efficiency rating, and a big part of that resurgence is the youngest member of the secondary, the junior Barton. This safety has generated three interceptions and has 3 other pass break-ups on the season, and he’s been good at assisting other members of the secondary to stop big plays from the opposition. Of the Illini defenders, Joel Stave cannot afford to lose track of Barton, or else a big mistake may swing this game into the Illini’s favor.
4 Bold Prognostications
Wisconsin rushes for 100 more yards than Illinois: Thanks to the efforts of a strong linebacker crew including Vince Biegel, Chris Orr, as well as Schobert, Wisconsin boasts one of the most effective rushing defenses in the country. Illinois is not quite as good against the run, which is why I think this is a game where Wisconsin goes “old school” and forces Illinois into submission with the rushing attack. While also completely shutting down any combination of Ke’Shawn Vaughn and other backs who carry the load this weekend.
Illinois generates a special teams touchdown: Clayton Fejedelem and Marchie Murdock both have a punt return touchdown this season, while V’Angelo Bentley ranks 21st nationally by averaging 11.6 yards per punt return. Wisconsin punter Drew Meyer averages 35 yards net per punt and therefore doesn’t outback his coverage much, but this still has the makings of a game where the Illini make a big play in special teams. That type of play could ignite whatever crowd is present in Champaign and make for a raucous environment, well, as raucous as Memorial Stadium gets.
Both teams will turn the ball over in the red zone: These are two of the worst teams in the Big Ten at red zone efficiency, with Wisconsin coming in at 80.6 percent and Illinois even lower at 70.8 percent. Although Illinois has yet to turn the ball over in this part of the field, Wisconsin has had a couple critical turnovers. Expect both teams to be forcing the issue and trying for touchdowns, which in a swirling wind day in Champaign could lead to duck-like passes that go for interceptions at the most back-breaking time.
Wes Lunt passes for 300 yards but Illinois still loses: As noted above, I expect Wisconsin to completely shut down the Illini rushing attack. That, plus n early lead for Wisconsin, will force Illinois into a pass-first type of offense even more so than usual. Despite Wisconsin’s good defensive statistics, Wes Lunt is the type of quarterback who will have time to make good reads and carve up the Wisconsin secondary at times. Wisconsin will stop most of these from going for scores, and that will make the difference as Illinois fails to turn most of those big passing yard drives into points.
5 Staff Predictions (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Wisconsin 38-17 (61-14 overall; 33-41 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 31-17 (61-14 overall; 40-33 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 30-13 (55-20 overall; 43-30 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 34-17 (59-16 overall; 45-28 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 21-17 (16-6 overall; 8-11 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class
With all the flurry of activity around the 2020 class, apparently someone wanted to bring the 2021 class some attention on Tuesday as well.
Following back-to-back linebacker commitments in the 2020 class, Wisconsin picked up a verbal commitment from 2021 quarterback Deacon Hill.
The 3-star player out of Santa Barbara, Calif. went with his gut despite the potential to earn offers from the likes of USC, Oregon and Oregon State — all much closer to home.
Instead, Hill chose the Badgers over official offers from Kansas State and Nevada to date.
The 6-3, 225-pound quarterback was first offered by Wisconsin quarterback coach Jon Budmayr in May. It was the first overall offer Hill received in the 2021 class.
Wisconsin was able to get out in front of the 2021 quarterback class after a pair of big targets in 2020 passed on offers from the Badgers. Once that happened, the focus turned to the next class and it paid off in building a quick and solid relationship with Hill.
It may not be a big home run get like Graham Mertz was, but then again the Badgers were hip to Mertz before most of the country was and that paid off as he developed.
Hill is much more physically imposing than most quarterbacks entering their junior season would be, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have mobility either.
Nevada’s more spread-orientated offense and Kansas State’s quarterbacks are certainly going to be mobile ones in the new offense that is being installed.
As for Hill, the 247Sports composite rankings have him as the No. 30 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class. But, given the small amount of attention paid to that class so far we’ll see where that ends up should Hill hit the QB camp circuit in the coming months and year.
UW will only be taking one quarterback in this class, so they certainly trusted their early evaluation of the tool set that Hill possesses and could posses by the time he is finished at Wisconsin.
Arizona LB joins Badgers 2020 class
June is becoming a fruitful month for the Wisconsin Badgers football program, as official visits during the nicest part of the year on the calendar are paying off.
A day after adding 3-star inside linebacker Jordan Turner to the mix, a second linebacker has verbally committed to UW.
Malik Reed is the next linebacker to jump aboard the Badgers train in 2020, announcing his commitment via Twitter.
This is commitment No. 11 in the class for Wisconsin, who is now up to No. 30 in the country via the 247Sports composite team rankings.
Reed comes to the Badgers as the No. 41 ranked outside linebacker and No. 16 player in the state of Arizona according to the 247Spots composite rankings as well.
Reed is a product of a very productive Chandler, Ariz. program.
He chose the Badgers following a visit to UW earlier this month and over offers from the likes of UCLA, Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, Washington State, and others.
Interestingly enough, Reed chose to come back to Wisconsin despite his first visit coming in the middle of a blizzard in January. He has stated multiple times that the family atmosphere and coaching staff were big reasons for his interest in the program and that clearly won the day.
Reed appears to be a nice fit at the outside linebacker position, showcasing a good burst and an ability to play in space on the outside. UW sees him in the WILL position according to his post-visit interviews.
Last season, Reed played in 10 of Chandler’s 14 games and recorded 42 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in those 10 games.
Badgers add Michigan LB to 2020 class
Summer is proving to be a pivotal month for the Wisconsin Badgers football program. Between finding gems at camp and getting official visitors on campus, the Badgers are on a roll.
That roll continued on Monday as 3-star inside linebacker Jordan Turner verbally committed to the Badgers according to Badger247. He did so following a set of official visits this month.
Turner, the No. 34 ranked outside linebacker in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He is also the No. 18 ranked player out of the state of Michigan.
The Farmington, Mich. native becomes the latest in a growing trend of the Badgers getting players out of a state they previously found difficult to recruit from. Just this past recruiting cycle the Badgers added 5-star offensive tackle Logan Brown and Stephen Bracey to go with another six players from that state in the past few classes.
However, Turner is the first player to commit to the Badgers from the state of Michigan in the 2020 class.
At 6-3 and 230 pounds, Turner has the size to play outside and inside, but the Badgers have told him the project him at inside linebacker. On tape, you can see him packing a heavy punch when he hits players and you can see some big time instincts that really can’t be taught.
Wisconsin wasn’t the favorite for Turner’s commitment until the very end. He does have a family connection to the Badgers, with his mother being a UW alumnus.
As for the Badgers, this commitment is the 10th in the class. Wisconsin ranks No. 33 overall in the 247Sports team composite rankings and No. 8 in the Big Ten.
While those numbers may not be impressive compared to other classes, remember that the Badgers already have three 4-star players in the fold and are waiting on some big names that have visited to make their decisions in the coming months.
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers D-Line in 2019
Yes, summer is officially here and that means just a few months time until the Wisconsin Badgers take the field against the USF Bulls in Tampa to open the season.
So, as we slowly approach the season, we’re going to look in-depth at each position and cover this team in a very different way than you may be used to.
It will start with a look at the best and worst case scenarios that could play out at every position at Wisconsin.
Previous Positions: Running Back |
After starting on the offensive side of the ball, let’s flip things around and talk some defense. Last season we saw just how important defensive line play could be, but what does 2019 have in store for us?
Best Case Scenario:
The Badgers get a full season with Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk at defensive end and Bryson Williams uses his experience from his true freshman season to blossom in to a dominant nose guard.
We saw just how big the Badgers missed on the defensive end front when it came to recruiting last season. When both Loudermilk and Rand went down with injury before the season started, the staff was left scrambling to find replacements.
Yes, it was nice that Kayden Lyles and Aaron Vopal stepped in and did an adequate job, but adequate isn’t good enough when you are breaking in some new pieces behind you in the secondary. Additionally, the Badgers were only able to produce 19 total sacks as a team in 2018 after averaging over 35 sacks a game in the previous four seasons.
Loudermilk did return during the season, but injuries kept bothering him and the sophomore finished with just 8 total tackles, 1 sack and 1 QB hurry in nine games played.
Lyles has moved back to the offensive line and both Loudermilk and Rand appear ready to be a dominant force on the edges of the line. Their return can only pay dividends for the outside linebackers as well.
Additionally, given the lack of depth last season, the best case scenario would also involve players like C.J. Goetz, Isaiah Mullens and Boyd Dietzen stepping up as freshmen.
Worst Case Scenario:
This one is easy — either Loudermilk or Rand aren’t ready to shake the injury bug and there is no one stepping up to make plays at defensive end.
I have trust in Williams game at nose guard thanks to his experience behind Olive Sagapolu, and in relief of him later in the season due to injury. But, I don’t have trust in anything behind the first three guys out there just yet.
If that injury scenario does play out, there aren’t a bunch of veterans behind this group at linebacker ready to step up and figure out how to maneuver around the inconsistency that would be up front.
It all starts with those three starters, and injury could mean a back part of the defense that is overexposed as well as a decrease in the ability to play the attacking style of defense we saw in years past.
Most-Likely to Happen:
I personally believe we’ll see Rand get back to old form and become the player everyone thought he would be as a 4-star recruit out of high school in Arizona. But, I can see a case in which Loudermilk or Rand miss a game or two during the season due to nagging injuries.
That means we’ll likely get to see a lot of youth stepping up. The good news there is that players like Dietzen and Goetz were stepping up and playing well in spring ball. Look for a rotation to be trusted at defensive end after no such trust existed last year.
I can also see a situation in which the Badgers will kick Rand inside a time or two to help spell Williams thanks to the lack of experience behind him.
All of this adds up to another season living on the edge (pun intended) for the Badgers defensive line, but that edge being less razor-thin than last season. It will equal an uptick in to the 30’s for sacks from this Badgers team at the bare minimum and it will be a welcome return to a more attacking style.
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