Champaign, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - After making their return to the Top-25,
No. 25 Wisconsin will face a tough Big Ten Conference road test at Illinois on
Wisconsin began the season ranked in the preseason poll and were able to climb
to No. 20 following a fast 2-0 start, but with a couple of difficult road
losses to Arizona (32-30) and Ohio State (31-24), it promptly fell from the
ranks. The Badgers bounced back in a big way last weekend in their homecoming
game by downing Northwestern, 35-6, to move to 2-1 in the Big Ten.
"These kids prepared," Wisconsin head coach Gary Anderson said. "It obviously
means a lot to them every single week, but the ability to get in this position
and win at home against really good football team, and we all know that
Northwestern is a very, very good football team...I'm proud of this team."
Illinois has been one of the Big Ten's biggest surprises during the first half
of the season, and at 3-2, it has already surpassed its win total from the
disastrous 2012 season (2-10). The Illini entered league play in their latest
contest on Oct. 5 at Nebraska and were handed a 39-19 defeat. They have now
dropped 15 consecutive Big Ten matchups dating back to the 2011 season.
This marks the 80th meeting between these two programs, with the series
knotted up at 36-36-7. The Badgers have had the upper hand of late, beating
the Illini in seven of the last eight matchups.
Wisconsin's offense has been outstanding this season, scoring 37.2 ppg, but in
a Big Ten filled with high-scoring teams that number is good for just fifth in
the league. It is the conference's top offense in terms of yardage (519.5
Joel Stave runs the offense and has been impressive with 1,297 yards and 11
touchdowns on 61.8 percent completions, but he's been plagued by six
interceptions, and as good as the offense has performed, he knows that it is
capable of even more.
"There's things to tighten up (with the offense)," Stave said. "There's room
for improvement, as there always is. It's never going to be perfect, but
that's the goal. We're going to watch (the tape), learn from it and make sure
we're continuing to strive for perfection."
Unfortunately for Stave and the Badgers, it appears as though they might be
without one of the nation's best receivers in this matchup, as Jared
Abbrederis is doubtful after suffering a concussion last week. He has racked
up 35 receptions, 646 yards and five touchdowns, and in his absence James
White (18 receptions, 160 yards) will likely serve as the top target.
Luckily, Wisconsin has the nation's fifth-ranked rushing attack to lean on, as
the squad puts up 298.2 yards per game on the ground. Melvin Gordon is in the
midst of a breakout campaign during his sophomore season with 870 yards (third
in FBS) and eight touchdowns. White also gets involved with 574 yards and five
scores, and Corey Clement makes the most of his limited touches with 353 yards
and four touchdowns.
Defensively, few teams in the FBS can compete with the Badgers. They yield
just 267.3 ypg, and their scoring defense (13.2 ppg) ranks first in the
conference and fifth in the nation.
Chris Borland is the defensive catalyst. His 56 tackles are more than twice as
many as any of his teammates, and he has also racked up 3.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks.
Sojour Shelton has picked off three passes, while Warren Herring (4.5 TFL, 3.0
sacks) and Vince Biegel (2.0 sacks) help create a pass-rush.
The Illinois offense has nearly been as impressive as Wisconsin's, as it ranks
in the upper half of the Big Ten in both scoring (36.0 ppg) and yardage (457.2
ypg), while also converting third downs at a 48 percent clip.
Nathan Scheelhaase has been one of the league's most impressive signal
callers, ranking third in both yards (1,297) and touchdowns (12), and his
completion percentage (.642) is the best among Big Ten quarterbacks with at
least 100 attempts. He has also protected the football for the most part with
just four interceptions.
Josh Ferguson is one of the most versatile tailbacks in the nation. Not only
does he lead the team in rushing with 310 yards and a touchdown on 49
attempts, but he is Scheelhaase's favorite target in the passing game as well,
reeling in 20 balls for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Donovonn Young is also
heavily utilized with 269 yards and three scores.
Ryan Lankford acts as a viable deep threat, tallying 236 yards and a touchdown
on just 11 receptions.
The Illini have had some issues on the defensive side of the ball, allowing
opposing teams to score 27.6 ppg on 449.8 ypg.
Jonathan Brown is one of the Big Ten's top tacklers with 60 stops and 6.5 TFL.
The unit has created only five turnovers through five games, with Taylor
Barton recording the only interception.
The Sports Network