The Wisconsin Badgers came to town Saturday night for a prime time match up with the Fighting Illini, and they walked out of Memorial Stadium with a sound 56-32 victory which prompted many in attendance to scurry for the exits well before the final gun sounded.
My wife and I stayed until the bitter end, not because we actually fostered hope that a miraculous comeback was on the way, but rather because our 4 year old daughter was having a blast and had heard the public address announcer mention a post game fireworks show. The fireworks display itself was decent, but unfortunately the only fireworks that the majority of the fans in attendance saw were those provided by the Wisconsin running game.
Without any further ado, here are three things we learned against the Badgers.
1. The bye week “return to fundamentals” didn’t seem to help much.
The Fighting Illini defense is still a work in progress, and at this point someone had probably better just go ahead and hammer a sign in whatever practice field the defense uses that simply states, “Under Construction”.
Wisconsin rolled up 478 yards of total offense, primarily consisting of 289 yards on the ground that were the result of failed gap control, failed containment, misalignment, and more of the same thing we have seen all season: missed tackles. Granted, the Badgers rushing game is solid, but giving them this much help is downright disappointing as a fan. We knew coming in what Wisconsin was going to do, and the Illini looked powerless to stop it.
In the postgame press conference, Tim Beckman even admitted as much when he said, “When you play against a team like that, you’ve got to be clocking on all cylinders,” he said. “Defensively, we didn’t tackle well in space.”
One would have to assume that personnel changes are on the way heading into the Homecoming tilt against Michigan St.
2. There is an alarming trend that is showing itself on offense.
Despite having 5 drives in the first quarter, the Illini failed to register a single score. In Nebraska, the offense had 3 drives in the first quarter, and they failed to register a single score. In 3 first quarter drives against a truly horrid Miami(OH) team, they managed 7 points. In 3 first quarter drives against Washington, the Illini failed to register a score.
In all, that’s 14 first quarter drives covering their last 4 games, and all the high powered offense could muster was 7 points.
We tend to forget about this when the team manages to eventually get going and score points in bunches, but in this game it was 21-0 before you could even stop to take a breath. So, why is this happening?
In the last two games it seemed to me that there is a concerted effort to attempt to control the ball through dink and dunk type passing early on. Perhaps this is the plan because they are trying to keep the suspect defense off the field or, if you prefer to view it this way, to control the ball in order to keep the powerful Nebraska and Wisconsin offenses off the field.
However, what’s happening is that Illinois is taking away their best asset, which is the quick deep strike that works to soften up the defense and, in turn,allows the running game to flourish. At this point, we know that the Illini defense is struggling mightily so my preference would be simple.
Don’t try to come out and attempt to control the clock. Instead, come out with guns blazing and hold nothing back. The order of the day from the offenses perspective should be simple: Attack, attack, attack, and attack some more.
3. Not everything is terrible, and the sky isn’t falling just yet.
On the positive side, once the offense did get going they managed to hang 25 points on the first team Wisconsin defense. That’s 19 more points than Northwestern managed a week ago so that’s saying something, and what it’s saying is that this Illinois offense is for real. Many people probably wondered if their offensive success was happening only because of who they had played thus far, but Wisconsin’s D is currently sitting at #6 in the nation in total defense.
Hanging that many points on a defense that good should give Illinois some confidence heading in to their match up with the nation’s #1 Total Defense in Michigan St., and we could only be seeing the beginnings of what is going to follow. If Illinois can manage to put up points next weekend then all doubters should be silenced.