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Badgers defense spoils Illini homecoming hopes

With the offense struggling, UW’s defense paved the way for a 24-10 victory over Illinois on Saturday.

Apparently you can win games with just your defense. The Wisconsin Badgers defense held Illinois to just 10 points and while the offense struggled for large portions of the game, the Badgers came away 24-10 winners.

The win was Wisconsin’s eighth in a row over the Illini, extending the longest win streak for either team in the series’ history. It also marked an 8-0 start to the season for the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s offense really struggled without Jonathan Taylor, who powered UW to most of the 24 points it did manage to put up. However, he left the game at halftime with a left leg injury after rushing for 73 yards on just 12 carries in the first half.

For head coach Paul Chryst, the silver lining in the rather ugly nature of this game was seeing others step up with Taylor down.

“It wasn’t always pretty,” Chryst said. “There will be some areas where we need to work at and improve upon. I thought guys kept playing. It was fun to see other guys have to step up.”

While Taylor didn’t get credit for the touchdowns, those went to fullback Alec Ingold and backup running back Garrett Groshek, he certainly paved the way for them.

Those two touchdowns put the Badgers up 14-0 midway through the second quarter, which was an unexpected turn of events. It was a struggle for much of the game for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He struggled with the conditions and his lack of vision, going just 10 of 19 for 135 yards and an interception.

UW’s defense came up huge, time and again, including on Hornibrook’s miscue. It started by bailing out the Badgers offense after two straight three-and-outs to start the game and ended with the Badgers not allowing the Illini to score until a bogus pass interference call in the end zone resulted in a touchdown in the final minute of the game.

Badgers cornerback Nick Nelson was seen being shoved to the ground by Illini receiver Ricky Smalling in a clear fashion, only to have the back judge call pass interference on Nelson.

Outside of that, it was a brilliant day for Wisconsin’s defense. They allowed just 286 total yards, but allowed over 130 yards on the ground to a second-straight opponent. The Badgers defense made up for some big run plays by taking the ball away three times, including a pair of timely interceptions.

The defense also recorded 5.0 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss in the win.

Illinois wanted to use a two quarterback system, and it didn’t start off well. Cam Thomas’ first play of the game resulted in a Nick Nelson interception, as he jumped the route and set up Wisconsin’s offense inside Illini territory. However, the offense couldn’t capitalize and punter Anthony Lotti shanked his attempt to pin the Illini deep in their own territory.

Wisconsin’s next possession nearly ground to a halt inside its own 20-yard line. However a timely penalty for an illegal substitution on 4th and 4 gave the Badgers life. The offense wouldn’t waste it, going 92 yards on 15 plays and capping it off with a fullback dive by Ingold for a 7-0 lead.

That seemed to spark the offense, but Hornibrook stalled the Badgers momentum with a bad interception, staring down his receiver and missing the underneath coverage. UW’s defense put the brakes on Illinois momentum quickly and the Badgers offense went on to score the go-ahead touchdown the very next possession.

It came courtesy of Garrett Groshek, who had the better day replacing Jonathan Taylor following his ankle injury. He scored from two yards out and went on to put up 51 yards on 12 carries.

Rafael Gaglianone would tack on a 52-yard field goal late in the second quarter to put the Badgers up 17-3.

What happened next was the unexpected part, as UW’s offense came out of the half with little of the fire seen in just about every other contest this season. It resulted in a scoreless third quarter, and in the need for the defense to spark the offense once again.

Joe Ferguson put a stop to a potentially dangerous drive by the Illini, intercepting a Cam Thomas pass deep in UW territory and returning it to the 43-yard line of the Badgers.

On that offensive series things finally got going. Just as things appeared like they were going to completely grind to a halt inside the Illini 10-yards line, the Badgers pulled out the old fake roll-out to left tackle lateral. Michael Deiter rumbled four yards and hit pay dirt for the final 24-3 scoreline.

It was the second straight offensive struggle for the Badgers, but nonetheless the team improved to 8-0 on the season and have a chance to put a wraps on the West division title next week depending on how things play out the rest of the way.

The players seem to be taking the struggles in stride, knowing they will get out of the funk soon though.

“I’m confident we’re going to put together a complete game soon,” left tackle Michael Deiter said following the game. “Because you didn’t have the best game one day, you shouldn’t really weigh over you the next game because you have all week to prep. You going to go into each game with the confidence that you’re going to have a complete game.”

Wisconsin will take on Indiana in Bloomington next weekend, with kick scheduled for 11am CT on ABC.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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