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Badger Bits: Defense and special teams exorcise demons in win

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The Badgers' win on Saturday felt so much different from any other this season. Despite the obvious ugliness, it may have been the most satisfying game of the season as well.

The offense flat-out stunk in the first half, and the defense could not contain the edge from an underrated corps of Illinois running backs. Wisconsin could have been down 21-0 at half if not for two debatable offensive pass interference calls on Illinois' final field goal drive and a fumbled punt snap that gave the ball to Wisconsin on the goal line. But UW was only down 10 points at half, and from that point on it seemed as if the Badgers finally had karma working in their favor on the road.

It was oddly refreshing to see the special teams and defense turn in dominating performances while the offense (save Montee Ball) napped in the back seat. It helped that the Illini only gave three carries to Jason Ford and Donovonn Young in the second half, deciding to hold quarterback tryouts instead. Still, the Badgers were as aggressive as the have been all season, with Chris Borland and Mike Taylor combining for 29 tackles on the day. Special teams, meanwhile, pulled a remarkable 180, with Brad Nortmann's 74-yard punt in the third quarter being one of the silent plays of the game.

The hope now is that the Badgers are ready to return to Nebraska-game form with potentially two incredibly important games on tap. The ghosts of Michigan State and Ohio State are still around somewhat, thanks to a weekend in which every contender not in the SEC decided they didn't want to play for the national championship anymore. But Wisconsin's performance this weekend confirmed that this squad still has its eyes on improving even late in the season, and is still focused on controlling what they can in a year that still could be--should be--special.

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Especially offensively, this has seemed like one of the more "finesse" squads Wisconsin has ever fielded. On Saturday, they proved they could win gritty.

The mid-stride Ryan Groy/Travis Frederick swap will remain intact for Penn State.

Post-game grades are in: State Journal and Journal Sentinel give their biggest plusses to special teams and defense, obviously.

Wisconsin has forced 17 turnovers in their last eight games, compared to just one in their first three.

Montee Ball superlatives herehere and here.

Badgers Roundtable looks to the past, present and future; makes hearty predictions about the Penn State game.

Vince Biegel gets his game face down.

Wisconsin's projected bowl matchup is simultaneously enticing and terrifying.

One last look at the Illinois game from the other sideline.