Nov. 19, 2016
Wisconsin inched toward a Big Ten West championship with a 48-3 thumping of Illinois Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers had two running backs run for more than more than 100 yards and Bucky ran for a season-high 363 yards as a team. Wisconsin only had to pass it 14 times en route to overwhelming the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin also picked off Jeff George, Jr. four times in the first half that led to 17 Badgers points to help Bucky to a 31-3 halftime lead. With the win, Wisconsin improved to 5-2 in conference play and 8-2 overall. The Badgers are still in control of their own destiny in the division. If Wisconsin wins at Purdue and at home against Minnesota, the Badgers will be in Indianapolis, and Bucky will have be favorites in the final two regular season games.
There were many positives in this game, even if Illinois was not the greatest competition. First of all, the running game played well early and often. The Illini have some terrific players on the defensive line and they are getting better at run defense as the season goes on, but Wisconsin shredded them. Both Corey Clement (123) and Dare Ogunbowale (103) rushed for more than 100 yards and Clement added three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 363-yard day. It was the first game for the Badgers in which they had two running backs with 100-yard games since the 2015 Outback Bowl against Auburn. Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston did not have to do much in this game, but they were effective. This is the way Wisconsin wants to play. The two quarterbacks for the Badgers combined to go 8-of-13 for 92 yards and each had a touchdown pass. The offensive line is showing much improvement and it helped the Badgers average 5.7 yards per carry. In addition to the top two running backs rushing for more than 100 yards, third tailback Bradrick Shaw added 80 yards on the ground and a score. The running game did what it had to do against an inferior opponent and will get another poor defensive team this upcoming week.
Once again, the defense was fantastic. Any time a team allows three points, regardless of opponent, it is impressive. The Badgers forced George into poor decisions and it led to the four first half interceptions. Going into the game, Illinois quarterbacks had thrown just three interceptions on the year. It started with a D’Cota Dixon interception on Illinois’ second drive and it snowballed from there. Wisconsin only allowed 200 yards of offense and the Badgers held the Fighting Illini to 0-of-9 on third down. The previous record for 3rd-down conversion defense was back in 1997 when the Badgers held Boise State to 1-of-13. The defense gave up a few big plays to Illinois, but didn’t break when the Illini entered Wisconsin territory. It is hard to pick just one player to single out from the defense, as the unit played well as a whole. In addition to the four interceptions, Wisconsin had six tackles for loss. The Badgers held the Illini quarterbacks to just 7-of-24 for 101 yards. In the 10 games so far, the Wisconsin defense has allowed just 11 touchdowns and Wisconsin is tied for third in the country in points allowed per game.
Wisconsin should have another layup this week on the road against a Purdue team that has only one conference win. However, the Badgers need to come out focused and put the Boilermakers away early, especially after seeing three of the top four teams in the country lose (to to unranked teams) this past Saturday. It will be an interesting final two weeks for the Badgers in their quest to make the College Football Playoff. If the Badgers can win the final two regular season games and the Big Ten Championship game, Wisconsin will be playing Alabama.