Illinois football had Wisconsin on the ropes on Saturday, but the Badgers ended up fighting back.
The Illini played a near-flawless game against Wisconsin for three quarters. We were shutting down anything the Badgers had going on offense, and Luke Altmyer was having an efficient game.
But then a huge decision by the refs in the fourth quarter sent everything into chaos. Illinois ended up surrendering two late touchdowns to give away the game, 25-21.
Here are five observations from the Illinois football loss to Wisconsin
1. Jer’Zhan Newton is clearly a difference-maker
Coming into the game on Saturday, I always knew Jer’Zhan Newton was great. He was an All-American last season, and he is projected to be a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2024.
Newton impresses me every game he steps on the field. Against Wisconsin, he was having one of his classic dominating games. He broke through the offensive line quite often, and the only times he didn’t disrupt the quarterback was when he was being held. Even then, he was still causing chaos.
In the fourth quarter, Newton once again made a game-changing play. With Illinois up 21-10, Newton came around and sacked Braedyn Locke on 2nd and 10. This sack forced a fumble. It would have been a huge play for the Illini and one that may have won us the game for good.
Illinois fans quickly realized, as did Newton, that this play was about to change the game, for the bad, though. Newton was called for targeting, giving Wisconsin 15 yards and disqualifying him from the game.
From that point on, everything changed. Illinois gave up a touchdown on that drive and the next Wisconsin drive, which gave them the lead 25-21. Eliminating an All-American defensive lineman who has caused chaos the entire night makes a difference. Newton is a difference-maker when he is on the field. Sadly, the refs took that difference-maker away from Illinois on Saturday.