Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


2nd-half surge carries Badgers past Illini

Running back Montee Ball quietly rushed for 224 yards as he became the main component of UW’s offense with 38 carries. Ball rushed for two touchdowns and received one as well.[/media-credit]

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – It was gritty. It was ugly. But it might have been Wisconsin’s most impressive victory of the season.

Despite trailing, in every sense of the word, 17-7 at half, the No. 17 Badgers (9-2, 5-2) launched a second-half comeback to beat Illinois 28-17 (6-5, 2-5).

After a measly first half, Wisconsin’s offense finished with 285 total yards, the brunt of which came on the ground with 195 yards rushing and 90 yards passing. The Badgers gave up 301 total offensive yards, almost evenly split with 152 yards passing and 149 yards rushing.


Quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t counted on very often, completing 10 of his 13 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. He also added a one-yard touchdown run on a naked bootleg at the end of the third quarter that put the Badgers ahead for good.

But it was running back Montee Ball and the defense that really made the difference for Wisconsin.

Ball finished the day with 224 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on 38 carries.

“He’s been able to get the job done,” senior offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler said. “He’s been reliable, he’s been productive, so why not rely on him”?

While Ball quietly gained over 200 yards, at times grinding out two- or three-yard rushes, he ultimately averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

UW’s defense created four turnovers in the second half, three of which led to touchdowns.

Three of Wisconsin’s defensive backs picked off Illinois quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole as senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus, senior safety Aaron Henry and junior safety Shelton Johnson (whose interception sealed the win) all caught momentum-changing interceptions. Junior linebacker Mike Taylor also recovered a fumble at the beginning of the second half that sparked the defense’s success.

“Oh my goodness, man, we can be very, very dangerous,” Henry said. “Our D-coordinator does a tremendous job game-planning, but I think anytime we can go out there and have one turnover, then have another one and we’ve got guys just flying to the ball … we can be a special team.”

But it was Fenelus’ interception that helped set the tone for the rest of the game.

On Illinois’ second drive of the half, O’Toole was in at quarterback for the Illini on 1st-and-10 from his own 39. O’Toole dropped back to find senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, only to have Fenelus cut the route short and intercept the pass.

And while the defense helped the offense, the special teams helped the defense.

For the first time in four games, Wisconsin’s special teams didn’t allow any big plays. Instead, senior punter Brad Nortman was key in trapping Illinois deep in its own territory on several occasions.

Plagued with penalties on offense on the second drive of the second half, UW was looking at 4th-and-31 from its own 23. Nortman came in with the wind at his back and hit a 74-yard punt that put Illinois on its own three-yard line.

“It’s certainly nice to punt with the wind at your back,” Nortman said. “Going into it was pretty challenging. It was one of the most drastic winds I’ve felt in my time here, this season especially. Being able to change field position like that helped our defense and it helped them do what they do best.”

The second half was certainly a great showing for the Badgers, but the first half was quite the opposite.

Wisconsin went into halftime down 10 points, appearing as if its defense forgot how to pass-rush and its offensive line couldn’t function consistently without injured center Peter Konz.

At halftime, the Fighting Illini led in all phases of the game with 224 total yards to the Badgers’ 93, 113 yards in the air and 111 yards on the ground. Wisconsin had 41 passing yards and 52 rushing yards in the first half.

Head coach Bret Bielema said he knew his team just wasn’t executing its normal game plan.

“We just didn’t do what we do,” Bielema said. “We had a couple of penalties, we had a couple of false starts on offense, we had a pass interference on Borland there that gave them some extra yardage. We just didn’t do what we normally do.”

In a season that has generally consisted of blowouts by the Badgers, this one was a physical grind that made a statement.

The offense has been posting big numbers all season, but it was the defense who turned things around and gave the Badgers a chance to win.

“It feels really good to be such a huge contributing factor to a win like this,” sophomore defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. “Everyone talks about our offense, but at the same time it’s good for us to come out and take care of business.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *