Nobody knew what to expect from the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday as they hosted the Illinois Fighting Illini. Coming off of a 20-14 loss to Northwestern last week, Wisconsin was in need of a statement win against a weak Illinois team. On Saturday, the Badgers managed to give everyone a scare, falling behind 14-7 to the Illini early on, but then proceeding to score 24 unanswered points, then allowing 14 points late in the game en route to a 38-28 victory.
The Badgers started out fast on their first drive, moving 80 yards on six plays on their way to the end zone. Melvin Gordon carried the ball five times for 42 yards during the drive, ending with a 15-yard touchdown run to put the Badgers up 7-0.
After pinning Wisconsin deep in their its territory and holding them to a three-and-out, Illinois started its second drive of the game with excellent field position on the Badgers' 31-yard line. Four plays later, Illinois got on the board after Reilly O'Toole hit Matt LaCosse for an 8-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
After Wisconsin went three-and-out again, Illinois received the ball on the Badgers' side of midfield for the second straight drive. Once again, O'Toole quickly led the Illini offense down the field in five plays, finding Geronimo Allison for a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the Illini a 14-7 lead.
On the Badgers' next drive, Joel Stave was able to make an impact after attempting only one pass prior to the drive. Stave went 4-for-5 during the drive, throwing for 44 yards. Sam Arneson was Stave's primary target during the drive, hauling in three catches for 34 yards. On the Badgers' tenth play of the 75-yard drive, Gordon tallied his second touchdown of the game with a 6-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14.
Stave was swapped out with Tanner McEvoy in the second quarter 10:43 remaining. McEvoy went 3-for-4 during the drive, throwing for 24 yards and adding 12 rushing yards off of a single carry. The Badgers drove 50 yards on 10 plays with McEvoy under center, but saw the drive stall on the Illini's 29-yard line. On fourth-and-nine, Rafael Gaglianone missed the 47-yard field goal that would have given the Badgers back the lead.
Illinois took the ball back on their own 29-yard line and proceeded to drive 35 yards down to the Wisconsin 36-yard line. Tim Beckman elected to go for it on fourth-and-two, but Vince Biegel was able to stop Josh Ferguson for no gain to give the Badgers the ball back with 2:42 remaining in the first half.
Two plays later, the Badgers' regained the lead after a 34-yard run by Kenzel Doe set up a 30-yard touchdown run by Gordon on the next play to give Gordon his third touchdown of the game and the Badgers a 21-14 lead with 2:14 to go in the first half.
The Badgers got the ball back on their own 22-yard line with 1:16 left in the half. On the first play of the drive, Gordon clocked in his longest run of the day thus far--a 46-yard run to get the Badgers across midfield and also make Gordon the fastest player in Wisconsin history to rush for over 1,000 yards. Later in the drive, Gaglianone converted on a 44-yard field goal to give Wisconsin a 24-14 lead heading into the half.
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Gordon had a strong showing in the first half, rushing for 146 yards on 18 carries, adding all three of the Badgers' touchdowns in the half. Andy Ludwig chose to give the weak Illini rush defense a heavy dosage of Gordon and Clement, running the ball 26 times in the half while only having Stave and McEvoy throw the ball 12 times. Of the Badgers' 294 total yards in the first half, 223 came from running the ball while the passing attack combined for only 71 yards in the half.
After neither team was able to score to start the second half, the Badgers took over fort their second drive of the half on their own 10-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Corey Clement carried the ball for 51 yards--his longest carry of the season. Eight plays later, Gordon found the end zone for the fourth time of the game, this time diving over the line for a 1-yard score to give the Badgers a 31-14 lead with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter the Badgers' broke the game wide open as Clement ran untouched for a 72 yard touchdown, giving the Badgers' a 38-14 lead.
Failing to get anything done on offense, Illinois decided to make a switch at quarterback in the fourth quarter as Aaron Bailey came into the game for O'Toole. Bailey was able to make some plays on his feet, running the ball six times for 29 yards on his first drive but ultimately, the Illini were still forced to punt. On the Illini's next drive it took Bailey one play to find the end zone, scoring on a 29-yard rushing touchdown to make the score 38-21 with 8:43 left in the game.
Bailey was able to tighten the score even further, as he drove the Illini into the Badgers red zone on a nine play, 83-yard drive that culminated with a one yard touchdown run by Donovonn Young. Following Young's touchdown, Illinois was able to recover an onside kick attempt with 2:53 left, trailing 38-28.
The Illini managed to move the ball to the Badgers' 37-yard line thanks to a pass interference call against Sojourn Shelton on third-and-nine. However two plays later, Bailey missed on a deep throw and Peniel Jean intercepted Bailey's pass on Wisconsin's own 2-yard line with 2:03 remaining in the game, sealing the victory for the Badgers.
Gordon finished the game with 175 rushing yards on 27 carries and four touchdowns. Clement had a big day of his own, totaling 164 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown. For the Illini, Bailey was the team's leading rusher, as he managed to run for 75 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown--all in just one quarter of play. The passing game for Wisconsin was relatively quiet, as Stave and McEvoy combined only attempted 18 passes the entire game. The Badgers' offense finished the game with 499 total yards, while the Illini's offense totaled 288 yards.