Illini Lose to No. 25 Badgers, 56-32
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Wisconsin capitalized on huge field-position in the first quarter to pull out to a 21-0 lead and held Illinois at arm's length the rest of the night, finishing with a 56-32 win at Memorial Stadium. Illinois totaled 319 passing yards, eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the fourth time in six games this season and the first time in a Big Ten game since 2011. Senior wide receiver Steve Hull notched his first career 100-yard receiving game with 105 yards on six catches.
"It was tough," senior Jonathan Brown said. "We knew that coming in it was going to be a tough task. I feel like this is a constant thing and I'm coming in and saying how we didn't execute. It's definitely something we've got to get better at. We're not going to quit. We're never going to be a team that quits. We're going to play till the last lap of the last game. Today, we just came out and they executed better than us. No excuses. They came out and played ball and we didn't."
"We are who we are and we've got to find a way to get better, playing and coaching to get this [season] turned around," defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "You're constantly evaluating. That's the name of the game, because at the end of the day you can't make any trades, so you've got what you've got and you've got to find a way to put them in the best possible positions to be successful. That's my job, so that's what I've got to do."
After forcing an Illini punt into the wind, Wisconsin took possession just on its side of midfield and used a pair of chunk plays to get down to the Illinois two yard line before quarterback Joel Stave handed the ball off to James White for a two-yard touchdown run to put the Badgers up 7-0 with 10:33 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin forced another Illinois three-and-out and put together a precise drive, with a 26-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon putting Wisconsin up 14-0 with 6:03 left in the first.
On Illinois' next play, Aaron Bailey attempted to flip the ball to Nathan Scheelhaase on an apparent end-around, but Scheelhaase wasn't able to handle the pitch and Wisconsin recovered the fumble deep in Illini territory. Three plays later, Stave hit Brian Wozniak with a two-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 Badger lead with 5:03 remaining in the first quarter.
Following a defensive stop by Illinois, Bailey rushed for 12 yards for the first down. Scheelhaase continued the long Illinois drive, hitting Hull with a 20-yard strike and carrying the ball for 27 yards before being sacked on third down to set up a 31-yard field goal by Taylor Zalewski that put Illinois on the board 21-3.
The Illini kept up their defensive momentum, forcing a Wisconsin punt. Scheelhaase hit Hull with a 51-yard bomb to the Wisconsin six yard line and three plays later, Josh Ferguson rushed in with a 1-yard touchdown run to bring the Illini within 21-10 with 6:38 left in the second.
Gordon continued to move the ball on the ground and Stave connected on a pair of long passes to Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen before Gordon capped the 10-play drive with a one-yard plunge with 1:55 left in the quarter to add to the Wisconsin lead, 28-10.
Scheelhaase moved the ball quickly with three consecutive pass completions. His 39-yard pass to Ryan Lankford brought the Illini up to the four yard line. Donovonn Young rushed for three yards to bring the Illini within one yard and Bailey took the field in Illinois' short-yardage package. But this time, he stopped short of the line of scrimmage and found Matt LaCosse in the end zone for Bailey's first career touchdown pass to bring the Illini within 28-17 to close out the half.
"I think it first comes with tackling," head coach Tim Beckman said. "Offensively, we have to have consistency. We've got to be able to move the ball in a consistent manner. We've got a ways to go, no question, but we fought and we've got to continue to fight throughout this football season for this program to move forward."
After a long Illinois drive, Bailey appeared to crash into the end zone from one yard out on fourth down, but the play was reviewed and overturned, giving the Badgers the ball on their own one yard line. But the Illini defense stiffened, forcing a Badger punt. Scheelhaase rushed for a 19-yard gain, followed by a screen pass to Martize Barr for a 15-yard gain. Capping off the drive was a one-yard touchdown run by Scheelhaase with 11:38 left in the fourth. Tim Russell's pass to Jon Davis added with the two point conversion, bringing Illinois within 42-25.
"What we've got to understand is that nobody is going to feel sorry for us," Scheelhaase said. "Nobody is going to care what teams we lost to or how inexperienced we are. Halfway through the season, you're no longer an inexperienced team. Nobody is a freshman anymore. All that matters is the next game. It doesn't matter the progress we've made or haven't made, we've just got to step up to the challenge."
On the Badgers' next possession, White rushed in for a one-yard run with 8:32 left in the game to put Wisconsin up 49-25. Illinois and Wisconsin exchanged touchdowns to wrap up the fourth quarter with the final going Wisconsin's way, 56-32.
"I think when you play a team like that you've got to be clicking on all cylinders," Beckman said. "We didn't tackle well in space again. I think offensively, we didn't start off the way that we needed to start the football game and fell down early. There are a couple things you can talk about in the red zone but I think our team fought 'til the end to do what they could do to score and stop them. I didn't see anybody quitting. I thought the kids played hard and we've got to remember that this is halfway through the season, we're 3-3 at the halfway point, we've got six Big Ten games left and we know now it's like going in at half 0-0."