In a primetime clash against the Wolverines, the Badgers were smothered by the Michigan defense, amassing just 283 yards of total offense. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had perhaps the worst performance of his career, completing just 35 percent of his passes with two interceptions. At one point in the game, Hornibrook missed on 12 straight attempts and went more than two quarters without completing a pass.
Things weren’t much better for the Illini last Saturday as they were trounced on Homecoming weekend by Purdue to the tune of 46-7. After a scoring drive on its opening possession, Illinois allowed 46 unanswered points in what was likely its worst performance of the season as well.
Safe to say both teams will have some extra motivation to rebound from the disaster that was last weekend.
Illinois at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -26
Three Things to Watch
1. Banged up
The Wisconsin defense was short-handed last weekend against Michigan, and it looks as if that could be the case again Saturday against Illinois. Starting defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk has already been ruled out for the second consecutive week. Safety D’Cota Dixon missed last week as well and is currently listed as questionable, while fellow starter Scott Nelson is also questionable after injuring his right leg in the second half against the Wolverines. In total, the Badgers have five defensive backs who were all listed as questionable as of Monday. Looking for good news? Illinois currently ranks 117th in the country in terms of passing yards per game, so it’s not as if this Wisconsin secondary will be challenged much through the air.
2. Balance needed
The Illinois offense has been pretty good when the running game is clicking. The Illini currently rank fourth in the conference in rushing, averaging 229 yards per game, and are just under 400 total yards per game on offense as a whole. But their inability to throw the football consistently was exploited last weekend against Purdue as the Boilermakers held Illinois to just 69 yards and a 2.2 yards per carry average. Former Virginia Tech grad transfer AJ Bush has been dangerous on the ground with two 100-yard rushing games in four starts, but he is completing just 55 percent of his passes and has just one TD pass on the season. A defense like Wisconsin should be able to suffocate a one-dimensional offense. The Illini will need balance to pull a shocker in Madison.
3. Feed the beast
What do you do with a struggling quarterback and an offense looking to get back on its feet? Get back to the basics and do what you do best. And for Wisconsin, what they do best has been exactly the same for decades — run the football. Star running back Jonathan Taylor had his lowest output of the season last week against Michigan with 17 carries but still managed to average just under six yards per carry and topped the century mark for the sixth time this year. Taylor should have plenty of room to run Saturday against the Illini, who are currently next to last in the conference, allowing just under 200 yards per game on the ground.
On paper, this doesn’t appear to be an even matchup, even with the depleted Wisconsin secondary, and the Illini are probably catching the Badgers at the wrong time after the embarrassing performance last weekend against Michigan. Forcing another poor outing from Alex Hornibrook and creating a few splash plays on offense or special teams is a must if Illinois is to pull the upset. Against a motivated Wisconsin team on the road, that doesn’t seem likely.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 17
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.