This should be a game of comfort for the Badgers. That's what the expectations are. The line opened at -11 and has risen to be about -13 in favor of the Badgers. But it's a road night game, and as we've seen? Strange things happen at night.
But the good news? Jared Abbrederis seems like he's going to be clear to play this weekend. It's not to say that the Badgers would be too lost in the passing game without him. Illinois is currently dead last in the country in sacks and do not get a great amount of push from their front four. Joel Stave's going to have time in the pocket this week, and while Illinois pass defense has improved as the season's worn on? It's plausible that this improvement is schedule aided, as their last two games have been against the 120th (Miami (Ohio)) and 91st (Nebraska) ranked pass offenses.
The real wild card in this match-up is Nathan Scheelhaase. He gets enough time, he can absolutely pick a team apart. In the Cincinnati game he went 26 for 37 with 312 yards and four scores. And that defense is the 4th best against the pass in the country. But he got chased throughout the Nebraska and Washington games and that limited him to a subpar performance. It will be imperative that the Badgers continue to show the pressure they put up in the Northwestern game to keep Scheelhasse from making plays.
Because while they do have a very talented running back catching passes in Josh Ferguson and Ryan Lankford has had moments of glory, the Illini do not have a receiver the caliber of Abbrederis the Badgers secondary the Badgers have to try and defend. And this is definitely a good thing for the Badgers.
When Illinois runs the ball, they do it with a sort of a tag team style. Ferguson is the speedy one, the one who can catch the passes out of the backfield. They try to get him 12 to 15 touches and he can make something big happen with one of them. Donovonn Young is more of the between-the-tackles thumper who will get the tough, necessary yardage to let Ferguson do some things. Scheelhasse can do some things running the ball as well, but the fact that the Illini O-line is averaging a little over two and a half sacks a game isn't doing well for his average.
But again, if the Badgers can force pressure and make the game tough on the Illini in the passing game, this is a good match-up for the front seven. The Illini are averaging a little over 7 tackles per loss allowed on the season. Illinois has a running game that's slightly worse than where Northwestern was last week. They could hold them down. Very easily.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Illinois has the 98th ranked run defense. On a per play basis? It's 103rd. Melvin Gordon home run hitting? Almost a lock. James White being smooth and underrated? Almost a lock. Corey Clement getting five plays and a reason to think that Joe Mixon coming here doesn't guarantee him all sorts of carries? Almost a lock.
All in all, this seems like the sort of game where the Badgers can win comfortably. They just have to make sure that Scheelhasse doesn't get hot to start.