After winning its first game in over a month, the Illinois football team (2-4) has a golden opportunity to seize its second straight win vs. the Wisconsin Badgers (1-3) at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday.
The Illini have a winnable game ahead of them, as they host a Wisconsin team that has mightily underperformed after starting the season off ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25.
What are some of the good and bad things the Illinois football team should expect against Wisconsin?
A vigorous Badger defensive unit
The biggest strength of this Wisconsin team is undoubtedly its defensive unit. More specifically, their run defense.
The Badgers are only allowing 45.2 rushing yards per contest through its four played games this season, which leads the country. The Badgers’ 187 total rushing yards allowed also ranks second in the nation.
As a whole, the Wisconsin defensive unit ranks No. 3 out of all NCAA DI defenses with its 250.5 total yards allowed per game.
This unit is led by Badger senior defensive end Matt Henningsen, who leads the team with his 15 total tackles on the year. In addition, Henningsen has recorded two sacks through the Badgers’ four games.
Sophomore linebacker Nick Herberg is another name to keep in mind when looking at this Wisconsin defense. Herberg leads the team with his 3.5 sacks on the year. The sophomore has also tallied a total of 12 tackles so far this season, ranking fourth on the team.
Illini head coach Bret Bielema will need his offensive line to hold its ground against this vicious Wisconsin front-seven. In addition, Illinois senior quarterback Brandon Peters will need to make quick decisions with the ball, given that he will likely be under much pressure on Saturday.
An under-performing Wisconsin offense
Most of us remember the 2020 season opener when then-freshman Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz disassembled the Fighting Illini defense, completing 20-of-21 pass attempts, and breaking a school record with a completion percentage of 95.2%.
In addition, Mertz threw for 248 yards and five touchdowns in the Badgers’ 45-7 rout of the Illini.
Since then, things have not gone as smooth for Mertz and the Badgers’ offensive unit.
Mertz has struggled to move the ball so far this season, ranking No. 107 of all NCAA DI quarterbacks with just 681 total passing yards. Additionally, Mertz ranks No. 101 with his subpar 6.2 yards per completion.
On top of that, the quarterback has struggled to connect with his receivers, also ranking outside the top 100 in completion percentage at No. 106 with 56.4%. The Wisconsin offense ranks among the bottom-15 of all DI teams, scoring just 18.5 points per contest.
If the Fighting Illini defense – which has allowed less than 100 rushing yards in each of its past two outings – can force the Badgers to pass the ball, the Orange and Blue have a chance to knock off Wisconsin for the second time in three years.
Facing an underperforming team with a subpar offense and struggling quarterback, this is absolutely a winnable game for the Illini.
If the Illini want any shot at winning this game, they will need a ton of production from its run game – specifically, another breakout performance from freshman running back Josh McCray.
However, the Badgers’ front-seven will prove too tough for the Illini. Peters and the Illini offense will struggle to move the ball. In a low-scoring affair, Wisconsin defeats Illinois 17-13.