The Wisconsin Badgers will put their undefeated record on the line on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois for a Big Ten Conference clash versus the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Wisconsin is starting to enter the College Football Playoff conversation after an impressive 6-0 start. The Badgers’ season will likely be decided next week when they travel for a heavyweight matchup versus No.4-ranked Ohio State. Will Wisconsin get caught looking ahead or will they take care of business on the road versus Illinois on Saturday afternoon?
The Badgers are led by Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, who has quickly established himself as one of the best running backs in the nation. Taylor has compiled ridiculous totals through six games, rushing for 825 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding 136 receiving yards and four scores. Taylor is currently on pace for 32 touchdowns and a little over 2,000 yards, which would make him one of the front-runners in a tightly-contested Heisman race. The junior running back could end up becoming one of the best college running backs ever, but with a decision regarding the NFL Draft looming, it will be interesting to see whether the star running back prioritizes a Badgers’ bowl game or prepping for the NFL Draft Combine.
Since winning their first two games of the season against lowly Akron and Connecticut, Illinois has struggled versus Big Ten opponents. After a pair of narrow losses, the Fighting Illini have been outscored by 40 combined points over their past two games versus Minnesota and Michigan, who exposed their inability to stop the run. Minnesota ran for 332 yards in a 40-17 blowout win over Illinois, while Michigan trampled their way to 295 yards on the ground in a 42-25 win. The Fighting Illini put up a valiant effort last week, battling back from a 28-0 deficit to come within three points in the fourth quarter before a late Michigan surge put the game out of reach.
Wisconsin on a collision course with Ohio StateThe Badgers dominated Michigan State 38-0 to move to 6-0 and 3-0 in the Big Ten last week. Running back Jonathan Taylor faltered for the first time all season, snapping his 100-yard game streak at five after finishing with just 80 yards on 26 carries. Still, Taylor managed to find the end zone twice and he helped Wisconsin dominate the time of possession 39:10 to 20:50, while Wisconsin’s defense posted its fourth shutout of the season. They held Michigan State to just 149 total yards and 30 yards rushing, while forcing two turnovers and holding them to just 2-of-14 on third down. Taylor’s performance underscored how dominant the Badgers have been this season. The Badgers have yet to allow more than 15 points in a game, while winning by an average of 32.67 points per contest.
Jonathan Taylor. GONE 💨 pic.twitter.com/8jPEvQa2vo— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 5, 2019
The Wisconsin-Illinois rivalry has been one-sided for more than a decade, which has taken some of the excitement out of this game. The Badgers’ lead the all-time series by a slim margin (42-36-7), but they’ve won nine straight meetings and 13 of the last 14 overall in this series. In four meetings since head coach Paul Cryst took over at Wisconsin, they’ve outscored the Illini by a combined 99 points (145 to 46). Wisconsin comes into the week as 31-point underdogs, so while an upset is highly unlikely, the Badgers can’t afford to lose their focus ahead of next week’s heavyweight battle versus Ohio State.
Next week’s highly-anticipated matchup versus the Buckeyes could very well determine the trajectory of the Badgers’ season and the College Football Playoff bracket. ESPN’s Matchup Predictor gives Wisconsin a slim 24.9 percent chance of winning, though many people expect the game to be much closer.
Junior quarterback Jack Coan has played mistake-free football for the most part, throwing for 1,119 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception for the season. The Badgers come in scoring 42.5 points per game, while allowing an FBS-best 4.8 points per contest though six weeks. Wisconsins’ defense also leads the nation against the run, allowing just 44.7 yards per game on the ground and 173.7 yards of total offense per contest.
Illinois AD voices support of football teamIllinois made headlines a few years ago when it was announced that former Chicago Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith would take over the football program, but four years into Smith’s tenure, the Fighting Illini have yet to see results on the field. After a disappointing 2-4 start (0-3 in the Big Ten), a team that many expected to contend for a bowl game will now have to win four of its final six contests to reach the postseason. That is going to be especially tough considering that remaining schedule includes three games versus opponents currently ranked in the top-25. The Fighting Illini are just 11-31 since Smith took over, including 4-26 in Big Ten Conference play. Yet, somehow the Illinois’ head coach still has the support of his Athletic Director, Josh Whitman, who voiced his support of the team after last week’s hard-fought loss versus Michigan. However, if Illinois continues to disappoint, Smith’s seat could continue to heat up, but don’t expect the program to make a decision before the season is over.
There were some positives last week though, as redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Robinson excelled in his first career college start. Up against No.16-ranked Michigan, Robinson was able to throw for 192 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Robinson, at least for now, appears to be the solution under center for the remainder of the regular season. Junior receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe is also coming off his best game of the year after finishing with 102 receiving yards and a touchdown versus the nationally-ranked Wolverines.
However, Brandon Peters (concussion) has practiced this week and is likely to return as the starter barring any setbacks. The grad transfer from Michigan has completed 58.3% of his passes for an average of 159.4 yards per game with 10 touchdowns and four picks.
"Brandon Peters is our starting quarterback,” Smith said when asked this week if Robinson might remain the starter. “Our backup quarterback played well for parts of the last game, but when our starting quarterback is ready to go, he will go.”
On defense, Illinois comes in allowing 30.7 points and 434.5 yards of total offense per game, including 201.8 yards per game on the ground. Stopping the run is going to be a major point of emphasis once again this week, as the Fighting Illini defense will be up against one of the nation’s premier running backs in Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor.
- Badgers are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing less than 275 total yards in their previous game.
- Badgers are 7-0 ATS in their last 7 games after allowing less than 170 yards passing in their previous game.
- Badgers are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games overall.
- Fighting Illini are 15-36 ATS in their last 51 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game.
- Fighting Illini are 10-26 ATS in their last 36 home games vs. a team with a winning road record.
- Fighting Illini are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games in October