Week 8 Illinois Opponent Preview: #23 Wisconsin Badgers

Illinois now has 2(!) 39 point losses at home. Both while allowing over 44 unanswered points. The loss to Penn State was supposed to happen as it did, but the 39 point homecoming loss to Purdue last week was not. Ever step that Illinois took forward this year was taken back by the ill planned, ill executed football game. Last Saturday was an abomination, and the only part of the team that showed up was the fans. Wisconsin is also coming off a total beatdown against Michigan last week. The two teams definitely hit their season lows last week. Let’s see which one turns it around.

Alex Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor vs. Illinois Defense

Wisconsin has the Big 10’s 11th ranked offense, but has the best rushing offense led by Jonathan Taylor. Taylor already has 950 yards on the ground and is averaging more than 6 yards a carry. Illinois is the Big 10’s 2nd worst rushing defense and league worst passing defense. But Illinois has been able to stay in games due to a positive turnover margin. Illinois has the propensity to take the ball away on defense, especially when they face a shaky QB like Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook has completed 59.7% of his passses for 1063 yards, 8 TDs and 4 interceptions. Last week against Michigan, he completed 35% of his passes. There is not a doubt Wisconsin will look to bail Hornibrook out by running the ball almost every down and play the game in the trenches and attack that league worst defense.

To win, Illinois needs to pack the box and keep the receivers close. If Hornibrook is forced to throw, Illinois can create turnovers. This will also hopefully stop Jonathan Taylor. There is nothing for Illinois to lose by blitzing once in a while. Wisconsin has 0 passing plays of 50 yards or more and only 7 passing plays of 30 yards or more. There is little chance Hornibrook will air it out.

Wisconsin Defense vs. A.J. Bush

If you look at the rushing stats from last week, it is abysmal. A.J. Bush rushed 20 times for 24 yards, Reggie Corbin rushed 6 times for 20 yards, Ravon Bonner rushed one time for 12 yards, and Mike Epstein rushed once for 10 yards. WHAT TYPE OF RUSHING OFFENSE IS THAT? This was a week after Corbin rushed 11 times for 137 yards and 1 score, Bush rushed 18 times for 118 yards and 2 scores and Epstein rushed 9 times for 63 yards and a score. Purdue stacked the box and forced A.J. Bush to respond to smaller rushing lanes and actually pass the ball. A.J. Bush missed more than a couple reads, hogged the ball and led the Illini to a 7 point offensive performance.

Wisconsin’s defense is luckily banged up and are ranked 11th in the conference against the run and 5th against the pass. Illinois will need to play team ball and run more plays than the quarterback scramble. Reggie Smalling and Carmoni Green will need to hold on to catches so that running lanes can develop and Mike Epstein needs to get more than one carry. Bush may be the better running QB, but MJ Rivers can add definition to this offense.

Illinois needs to beat Wisconsin at their own game and keep Jonathan Taylor and Co. off the field. If Bush (or Rivers) decides to distribute the ball, this is a possibility.

Bottom Line

Illinois is very good at keep hold of the ball. Luckily punts aren’t counted as turnovers. Illinois needs to keep moving the chains to even have a chance in this game. That can only happen if the offense has more than one dimension. The Wisconsin offense is too good for this porous defense and it would be best for Illinois to keep Jonathan Taylor off the field. Illinois need a perfect game to keep up with the Big 10 West’s Best team and after what I saw last week, that is doubtful. Wisconsin wins 27-14

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