3. Illinois defense let us down in the 4th quarter
I have been impressed with the Illinois defense for much of the 2023 campaign. They have done a great job considering what they lost from last season and the position the offense has put them in.
Let’s not forget, Illinois’ defense lost an All-American cornerback in Devon Witherspoon, who could end up being the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. We lost Sydney Brown, a safety who is playing well for the Philadelphia Eagles. We also lost talented defensive backs, Quan Martin and Kendall Smith.
I didn’t even mention the fact Illinois’ defense also lost linebackers like Isaac Darkangelo and CJ Hart. This defense was decimated this past offseason. On top of that, the Illinois offense hadn’t been sustaining drives, and we were passing the ball all over the field. This resulted in short possessions, so the defense didn’t have time to rest.
None of that mattered on Saturday, though. Illinois’ defense played some great football for three quarters, but then they let us down in crunch time. That fourth quarter was brutal.
I realize that Jer’Zhan Newton getting ejected from the game was huge. He is an All-American defensive lineman you are taking off the field. But you can’t allow back-to-back 80+-yard drives to lose the game. That is just unacceptable.
Illinois couldn’t get pressure on Braedyn Locke, which was a result of ejecting Newton, and this allowed Wisconsin to throw the ball with ease. We also had trouble stopping Braelon Allen in the final two drives, also a product of Newton not being on the field.
But even with one player ejected, it needs to be a next-man-up mentality. You can’t let the refs win the game for the Badgers. All we needed was one stop, and we couldn’t manage to do that. The Illinois defense really let us down in the fourth quarter and might have caused us a bowl appearance in 2023.