#25 Wisconsin vs. Illinois: brutally honest preview


James White vs. Illinois

Wisconsin has owned the Fighting Illini over the past decade, claiming seven of the last eight matchups with Illinois.

Playing at home hasn’t made much of a difference for the Illini either as they’ve gone 2-6 at Memorial Stadium against the surging Badgers.

If any team would take exception to the Badgers recent success, it would be the Illini, so here’s their chance to get back at those Sconnies.

Nathan Scheelhaase

Illinois Fighting Illini (3-2, 0-1) Analysis: Illinois had a surprising 3-1 start to the season before their reality came crashing down with a 39-19 beatdown at Nebraska. Despite the Huskers having their way with this team in the Big Ten opener, this Illini team beat Cincinnati 45-17 and stuck with the Pac-12’s fierce Washington Huskies before losing 34-24.

The Illini’s struggles with Nebraska can completely be attributed to the rush defense which doesn’t bode well with the Badgers up next. They give up 195.4 rushing yards per game which ranks a paltry 97th in the country. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah racked up a career-high 225 yards via the ground and he’s talented, but not Melvin Gordon talented. To make matters worse, Illinois’ pass defense isn’t too great either as the team allows 26.7 points per game and 449.8 total yards per game.

When Illinois wants to beat someone, they have to outshoot opponents with their above average offense. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has awoken from a bad-football coma and ranks 17th in the nation in pass efficiency (159.2), 33rd in passing yards per game (259.4) and 37th in total offense (267.8 ypg). Scheelhaase’s emergence can be directly credited to sophomore Josh Ferguson who leads the nation with 344 receiving yards from the running back position. He’s averaging 17.2 yards per catch and had an astonishing 192 yards from scrimmage in the loss to Nebraska. He’ll be the key versus Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-1) Analysis: The Badgers couldn’t have looked better in a dominating 35-6 win over previously-ranked #19 Northwestern. It was a real possibility that the Wildcats would come out flat after a heartbreaking loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes at home, but no one knew they would look that flat. After swinging and missing versus Arizona State and Ohio State, it was a statement win for Head Coach Gary Andersen and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s three-headed monster of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement are licking their chops for a juicy match-up with Illinois’ porous run-defense. Gordon has emerged as the leader of a pack that averages a healthy 298.2 rushing yards per game which ranks first in the Big Ten. The Badgers are so great at running the ball they’ve had at least two rushers eclipse 100 yards in eight of their last 14 games. Anything the Badgers get from the pass-game will be a bonus and they do expect to have star receiver Jared Abbrederis back from a head injury.

UW’s offense tends to get all the credit, but the defense has been quite good minus some bad secondary play against ASU and OSU. In fact, the Badgers and Florida State Seminoles are the only FBS teams to rank nationally in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense. Wisconsin sits at 5th in the nation while allowing a stingy 267.3 yards per game. Not only do the Badgers excel at running the ball, they are one of the best at stopping the run. They’ve only given up 90.7 yards per game on the ground which is quite amazing considering they’ve played high-flying offenses like Arizona State, Ohio State and Northwestern.

Brutally Honest Prediction: Wisconsin 30 Illinois 16

Wisconsin appears to be a team capable of becoming one of the hottest teams in the country and on the other side, Illinois is pretty much a resemblance of Northwestern with a much worse defense. If the Badgers can shut down the Wildcats’ explosive offense, they should  be able to do similar things with the Illini. Wisconsin will come close to giving all three of their backs 100-yard days and continue to ride an aggressivedefense to an extremely balanced attack that no one wants to face this season.

TV Coverage: Big Ten Network 7:00 PM CT; Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Chuck Long (analyst) and J Leman (sidelines)

Betting Lines: Wisconsin favored by 10 points and the over/under set at 57 points.

2013 Record straight up: 5-1

2013 Record against the spread: 3-3

2013 Record in over/under: 3-2

*no over/under for Tennessee Tech game

Last week redux: Picked Badgers to win 33-20 over Northwestern (they actually won 35-6). Hit on the trifecta; straight up, spread (-10) and over/under (56.5).

Do you think the Badgers will win by double digits for the second week in a row? Let me know by commenting below.

Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys sharing Fantasy Advice and pretends to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at grays@uwalumni.com.

*Pictures obtained from madison.com and suntimes.com

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