Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) will greet a middling Illinois Illini (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at Camp Randall Saturday morning.
The Badgers come into their seventh game with their playoff hopes dashed, reeling after last week’s game against the Michigan Wolverines, who gave UW a strident beating in Ann Arbor.
Despite the hiccup, Wisconsin remains in control of their destiny with regard to their positioning in the Big Ten Western Division, which they hope to win for the third consecutive year.
The Fighting Illini, led by head coach Lovie Smith — formerly the head honcho for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are coming off their own ugly loss.
Last week the Purdue Boilermakers rained on Illinois’ homecoming with a 46–7 stomping.
Though Illinois’ uninspiring record may suggest otherwise, they actually present a talented playmaking defense. They lead the Big Ten with turnovers gained per game with 2.17, and have forced a turnover in 20 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the nation. While their defense may be adept at taking the ball away, their record allowing scores negates much of their work. The Illini have allowed an average of 31.5 points a game.
The Illinois offense is underwhelming, only clocking in with just over 155 yards through the air per game, though a strong 228.8 yards per game rushing average.
Their graduate transfer quarterback A.J. Bush Jr. looks to be yet another rushing quarterback the Badgers have had issues with this season. In his four games, he’s come away with an average of over 70 yards on the ground per game, including two performances of over 100 yards.
Opposing teams have averaged just a hair under 200 yards rushing against Illinois this season, and Wisconsin will be the toughest ground game they have faced.
This could be a huge week for the Badger backfield that boasts running backs Jonathan Taylor, Taiwan Deal and Garrett Groshek, as well as alternate running options receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis and fullback Alec Ingold.
Taylor’s performance last week against the top defense in the nation still eclipsed the century mark with 101 yards, so we could be seeing a huge jump against a limited opposition this week.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had perhaps the least effective game of his career last week against the Wolverines. Though he finished with 100 yards on 7/20 passing, with one touchdown and two interceptions, that mediocre stat line was actually inflated by a garbage time drive. Until the fourth quarter, the junior only had 25 yards passing and the Badgers had zero luck finding offense at all.
This could be a great opportunity for Hornibrook to bounce back and find his groove once again as the Badgers enter the latter part of their Big Ten schedule.
Kickoff will be at 11 a.m. from Camp Randall Stadium.