Madison, Wisconsin was the setting for a prototypical Big Ten match-up on Saturday as the Wisconsin Badgers defensively outlasted the Illinois Fighting Illini by the score of 31-14.
A cold and balmy day set the stage for a game that was rather ugly with both teams combining to go 7-of-26 on third downs and each committing two turnovers.
But it was the Badgers (4-2, 1-1) who survive to see another day in what has become a very confusing race in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division.
What It Means: The end result of this game is nowhere near indicative of how the Badgers really performed against Illinois (2-4, 0-2). For three and-a-half quarters, it was the same ineffective offense and the stout defense who kept Wisconsin in the game. At one point in the first quarter, Head Coach Bret Bielema put third-string quarterback Curt Phillips in the game for no apparent reason, making what was already considered a joke even more so. Bielema addressed the situation at the post-game presser, stating “We wanted to give Curt an opportunity to get out there and show what he’s got, it wasn’t anything against Joel. We wanted to do it on the third series and that’s what happened.” Nonetheless, the defense came to play an entire four quarters, something they failed to do in the loss at Nebraska.
Player of the Game: RB James White (Seven touches for 105 total yards and one touchdown)
Teammate Montee Ball racked up quite a bit of his game-high 119 yards in garbage time. When the offense wasn’t clicking, it was White who stole the show with a 62 yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. He also had a 22 yard scamper early in the game when the running game was having a tough time navigating down the field.
Highlight of the Game: Have to go back to the screen pass Joel Stave dumped off to White which he used his speed in the open-field to march 62 yards to the house, the longest touchdown of his career. White told me after the game, “Once he (Stave) said hut, I knew I had an opportunity to score.” In fact, the play was UW’s longest play from scrimmage this season.
Stat of the Game (284): The yards given up by the Badgers’ defense, the lowest amount so far this season. Wisconsin also recorded four sacks for the second home game in a row. Strong play from this unit will be critical for the Badgers success going forward.
What’s Next: Wisconsin travels to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-1) who are still looking for their first conference win after a humiliating 44-13 loss to Michigan. Most people are in agreement that the Badgers and Boilermakers are the two frontrunners to go to the Big Ten Championship from the Leaders Division, so this is a fairly important game. Not to say Indiana or Illinois are out of it because it seems to be a fight of futility at this point.
What did you take from the Badgers win over Illinois? 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 to share Fantasy Advice and pretend 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montee Ball (Wisconsin Football Official Facebook Page)
Nathan Scheelhaase (chicagotribune.com)