Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Football: Illinois clobbers Wisconsin in disappointing performance

Badgers fall to 0-2 in Big Ten play
Osase Noma-Owens

In front of a crowd of 73,502 fans, Illinois (4-1) destroyed Wisconsin (2-3), winning 34-10 during Saturday’s game at Camp Randall.

After last week’s embarrassing blowout against Ohio State, Wisconsin hoped to turn the tides and switch course after a disappointing 2-2 start to the season. After all, Ohio State is the No. 3 team in the nation. The brutal beatdown against the Buckeyes gave the Badgers a piece of humble pie, instilling a sense of urgency as Wisconsin would face Big Ten juggernauts for the rest of the season.

As per usual, the Badger faithful were there to see it at Camp Randall on this crisp autumn Saturday. But the “boo”s that pervaded the stadium were not for the disdain of former Wisconsin and current Illinois football coach, Bret Bielema but for the play of their beloved Badgers.


The nightmarish outcome of Saturday’s contest began as a daydream. Electing to receive the first kickoff, the Badgers marched down the field, scoring a touchdown after seven plays for 53 yards. Running back and returner Isaac Guerendo returned the opening kickoff for 38 yards and followed with a 21-yard touchdown catch.

After a punt from Illinois, Wisconsin took over on their own 3-yard line. On third and nine, Mertz attempted a back-shoulder downfield throw to Keontez Lewis. The throw was broken up by cornerback Devon Witherspoon and intercepted by Kendall Smith.

Paul Chryst removed from head coach position on Badger football team

The short field position, in addition to a pass interference penalty by cornerback Jay Shaw on third-and-goal, led to a rushing touchdown from Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito. From then on, the two teams went toe-to-toe for the remainder of the first half, with Illinois leading 14-10 at halftime.

“We were at a moment at halftime,” former head coach Paul Chryst said. “I sensed that our response was going to decide the game.”

The coaching staff laid into the players at halftime, mobilizing the Badgers for a comeback. But just because you give a speech like Herb Brooks in Miracle, doesn’t always mean your team will beat the Soviets.

“You can have guys that respond well, but it doesn’t go the way you want to,” Chryst said. “These are all lessons that you have got to learn. Just because you know the response, you still have to go out and play.”

The next half would decide the fate and direction of Wisconsin’s season. Would Wisconsin return to dominant, hard-nosed, tough Wisconsin football? Or regress to a weaker, soft, fragile squad?

Wisconsin chose the latter, and Illinois exercised control over every aspect of the game in the second half.

After an opening drive touchdown by Illinois, Wisconsin was already dejected at their opening second half response. What followed was catastrophe. Guerendo fumbled the kickoff return, leading to an Illinois touchdown. Mertz then botched the following drive, throwing an interception into traffic that resulted in an Illinois field goal. That 44-yard field goal extended the lead to 24-10, turning the contest into a surefire beating.

Illinois running back Chase Brown muscled the Fighting Illini to victory with 25 carries and 129 rushing yards. The junior from Ontario starred in the most demoralizing play of the game for Wisconsin as Brown sliced and diced through the Wisconsin defense for a 49-yard touchdown, moving the Illini advantage to a 31-10 lead.

Football: Badgers fall to Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus

In Bielema’s first game at Camp Randall since 2012, his team played typical Wisconsin football — except Illinois was playing in white and orange.

Illinois won the line of scrimmage, bullied the run game and ultimately prevailed. The Badgers’ rush defense allowed 258 rushing yards last week and 137 yards and four touchdowns this week. Remember when Wisconsin had the No. 1 rush defense in the country last year?

On offense, Wisconsin was even worse. The Badgers finished with two rushing yards Saturday. To put that in perspective, Illinois allowed an average of 151 rushing yards per game last season. Wisconsin’s offensive motor is fueled by their run game. The tank was not only empty on Saturday, but the car was driving on a straightaway road with no gas station in sight.

Since offensive coordinator Bobby Engram took over this off-season, the offense has looked abjectly worse. The Illinois defense continuously packed the box, with up to eight men within reaching distance of the line of scrimmage.

Instead of designing screen plays or play action, Engram called for multiple wildcat formations in which running back Braelon Allen directly received the ball in the backfield. His play calling continues to be sterile and ineffective.

In addition, the supposedly dominant offensive line has looked frail in all three games with serious opponents — Washington St., Ohio St. and Illinois.

In Saturday’s matchup, Illinois ended with five sacks and eight tackles for loss. The postgame response from Wisconsin did not lead to many answers. Most of the players seemed confused, lost and unsure of the next steps.

“Something needs to change because that’s not us,” safety John Torchio said. “That’s not the Wisconsin football we know. So what’s off? I don’t know. We need to look ourselves in the mirror and we need to figure it out.”

Quarterback Graham Mertz divulged a similar response.

“That’s now what Wisconsin football is,” Mertz said. “That’s what we have to own as players.”

Though Mertz showed promise in the initial three outings of the year, his performance has regressed to his former self in the last two games. Completing 17 of 32 passes Saturday for 206 yards, his on-field performance appeared much worse than the numbers indicate. On the fundamentals, he threw the ball high multiple times, appeared rushed in the pocket and failed to make major third down throws.

In Big Ten play, Mertz has only completed 53% of his passes and thrown more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). On the leadership side, however, a bigger issue may reside.

Down 14-10 at halftime, or 24-10 midway through the 3rd quarter, someone needs to lead this team through adversity. Often times, the team looks to the quarterback. There is a reason why the quarterback remains and always will be the most important position in sports. But until Wisconsin finds a dominant quarterback, they will remain an average program.

Expectations for former Wisconsin standouts in the NFL as the season gets underway

The most impactful lesson from Saturday’s matchup is Wisconsin’s lack of discipline. The Badgers had two interceptions and a kickoff fumble. Illinois turned those mishaps into touchdowns.

In a similar vein, Wisconsin also racked up 10 penalties for 77 yards.

In the end, the narrative remains similar to after the Washington State game. The abhorrent upsets at Camp Randall both came as a result of penalties and turnovers. After a game like this, however, the grand vision of the program must be put into question.

Let’s face it, the times have changed. Halfback dives and cross-block running schemes can longer sustain a high-powered offense in the Big Ten. As the evolution and landscape of college football continues to change, so too, must the Badger offense.

Their refusal to adapt and modernize their offense costs them yards on the field, fans in the stands and star recruits on the team.

“No one wants to be where we’re at,” Chryst said. “We’ve got leaders on this team, and I believe in them. But we all have to be a part of the solution.”

The next couple of weeks will be very telling to see if the Badgers muster up a solution.

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