Badgers take one step closer, knock off Fighting Illini

The Predictions

Louis Bien: Wisconsin 40, Illinois 17

Jake Harris: Wisconsin 28, Illinois 14

Adam Hoge: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 17

Phil Mitten: Wisconsin 34, Illinois 24

Adam Tupitza: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 24

John Veldhuis: Wisconsin 35, Illinois 17

Chuck Schwartz: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 17

Sam Zastrow: Wisconsin 35, Illinois 10

The Reasoning

It's been a tale of two seasons for Illinois, a team that surprised the nation by starting the year 6-0, including a win over then-No. 22 Arizona State. After four straight losses, however, head coach Ron Zook finds himself in the familiar position of fighting for his job.

The problem for the Fighting Illini during the losing streak has been scoring points. Illinois has scored just 42 points in its last four games combined. Talented sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has thrown for just two touchdowns with three interceptions during the winless streak. His favorite target is senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who has caught 76 passes for 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns.

Illinois' offense has been so bad lately that Ohio State needed its quarterback, Braxton Miller, to complete just one pass to knock off the Fighting Illini in Champaign, and even the substandard defenses of Purdue and Michigan each held Illinois to 14 points.

 

The Illini will look to get back on track against Wisconsin, which fields the nation's sixth-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 15.8 points per game. UI will try and run the ball with senior tailback Jason Ford, who ran for 100 yards at Penn State, and Scheelhaase, who has proven his ability to scramble with 515 rushing yards on the season.

If the Badgers' talented offense continues its trend of scoring early and often, however, Illinois may be forced to throw. Wisconsin boasts two legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders in quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball, who set the Big Ten single-season touchdown record last week against Minnesota with his 27th score of the year.

Illinois' defense is talented with junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus leading a unit that ranks 12th in the country in allowing 18.6 points per game. Senior linebacker Trulon Henry saw his season end tragically after being shot in the hand at an off-campus party early Sunday morning. Wisconsin will miss injured center Peter Konz, who will be replaced by Ryan Groy Saturday.

Both special teams units are poor. The Badgers allowed yet another kickoff return for a touchdown against Minnesota a week ago. Thankfully, Illinois ranks dead last in the NCAA in kickoff return average (16.1 yards per return).

Some view this as a trap game for Wisconsin, which will likely face Penn State next weekend at Camp Randall Stadium with a berth in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game on the line. However, it is difficult to think of any loss the Badgers have suffered under head coach Bret Bielema that can be attributed to "looking ahead."

Who has the edge?

Offense: Wisconsin

Defense: Wisconsin

Special Teams: Push

Coaching: Wisconsin

Intangibles: Wisconsin

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