MADISON -- It only took two minutes and 48 seconds for Wisconsin to put points on the board Saturday, but the Badgers still struggled early in the game. Coming off of a difficult loss to Northwestern last week, the Badgers found redemption with a 38-28 win over Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium, but it wasn't necessarily pretty.
Joel Stave guided the team under center for much of the first half and the entire second half, leading all but one drive (he was on the sidelines for 10 snaps). The Badgers didn't take control of the game until the end of the first half and let Illinois back into the game in the four quarter. The Badgers rarely threw the ball, though, only attempting 18 passes. They were able to run wild on the Illinois defense en route to 401 yards rushing by the team, with Gordon rushing for 175 yards and Clement eclipsing 164 yards.
The Badgers' defense played well for most of the game, with six different players on defense recording sacks. The unit held Illinois under 300 yards of total offense and produced one takeaway late in the game. Leon Jacobs led the team in tackles in his first career start and Vince Biegel had a strong showing with six tackles, 2.5 for loss.
The Badgers took the ball right down the field, riding Melvin Gordon for 42 of the 80 yards on the first drive. The other run on the drive was by Natrell Jamerson, who gained 23 yards on an end-around midway through the drive. Gordon capped it off with a 15-yard touchdown run.
"There was a spurt there where we started fast," coach Gary Andersen said. "We had a very, very nice drive. Functionally, it was cleaner. There was more success."
Throughout the game, the Illini won the field position battle, starting with a 72-yard punt after their first offensive drive that found the Badgers starting at the own ½-yard line. Wisconsin spent next two drives going three-and-out and saw Illinois start its drives at the Wisconsin 31 and 42; the Illini scored from in both instances. The Badgers entered the second quarter trailing 14-7.
Andersen said that it was no secret that the special teams battle was lost. He said UW's unit as a whole must get better in order for the team to move forward.
"The 72-yard punt by them [showed their] ability to flip the field," Andersen said of Illinois' special teams. "[Not winning the special teams battle] showed its head again today. It was a big play."
To start the second quarter, Gordon capped a 75-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14. After stopping the Illini on the following drive, the Badgers drove 50 yards -- this time led by Tanner McEvoy -- but a missed 47-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone kept the game tied at 14-14. McEvoy never saw the field again after being under center for 10 plays.
The Badgers started to open up the game thanks in part to two big runs and a strong defensive performance. A 34-yard jet sweep by Kenzel Doe and a 30-yard touchdown run by Gordon made the game 21-14. To end the half, the Badgers took a 24-14 lead when Gaglianone nailed a 44-yard field goal with seconds remaining.
"[Melvin] is the best player I have ever been around," Andersen said.
To open the second half, Wisconsin's defense held Illinois to a three-and-out. The Badgers and Illini again exchanged punts, but when Wisconsin got the ball back, Corey Clement broke a run for 51 yards. The 90-yard drive was then capped by Gordon's fourth touchdown of the day, this time from 1 yard out.
The Badgers tacked on another touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Clement needed just one play to score on a 72-yard run as he blew past the defense. Clement's score made the game 38-14, but Illinois would mount a mini-comeback.
"We were excited," Gordon said. "We knew we would get after them a little bit. The real big runs went to Corey today. Our goal was to run the ball against Illinois. We knew we would get some opportunities."
Clement had recently talked about his displeasure with his play on the field. He mentioned that he had given up on social media for the rest of the season because of his poor play and the critics voicing their opinions. He felt that Saturday was a step in the right direction.
"I just wanted to be gone on that run," Clement said. "I saw my coach running on the sideline with me and that was all juice.
"Today makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like I still have it. I think I was just pressing too much. ... I let my frustrations get the best of me. I just sat back today and realized not everything is going to come easy."
Illinois coach Tim Beckman had previously stated that he planned to redshirt third-string quarterback Aaron Bailey. With the injury to Wes Lunt, Reilly O'Toole started the game, but was rather ineffective. That led to Beckham changing his mind and playing Bailey in the fourth quarter, which sparked the Illini offense.
"Well, we were going to go with Bailey sooner; I think what we were doing offensively was good," Beckman said. "We were moving the football and the game was 14-14, so we felt why change that right now? We decided to put him in the third quarter."
Bailey came in and rushed for 87 yards on 12 rushes and scored a touchdown. After drawing the game to 38-28, the Illini recovered an onside kick and started to drive down the field. Bailey, however, overthrew his intended receiver five plays later and Peniel Jean -- making his first career start -- recorded his first career interception in the end zone.
Wisconsin has a bye next weekend, and will resume play Oct. 25 vs. Maryland at Camp Randall.
- Linebacker Marcus Trotter and safety Lubern Figaro didn't play, giving Leon Jacobs and Peniel Jean the opportunities to start their first games.
- Andersen was not pleased with the performance of the special teams unit.
- Kyle Costigan and Trent Denlinger shared duties at right guard due to Costigan having an injured arm. Andersen said the injury doesn't allow Costigan to pass block effectively, hence the move to insert Denlinger on passing downs.
- Stave mentioned that he found out he would be the starter on Wednesday. He played all but 10 snaps under center.
- Gordon has now reached 1,000 yards rushing faster than any player in Wisconsin history. He has also rushed for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
- The Badgers have 19 sacks as a defense this year. They had 26 all of last season.
- Jacobs led the team with 12 tackles and registered his first career sack.
- Linebacker Derek Landisch went to the locker room during the second quarter. He reentered the game, and said his arm got bent the wrong way. The x-rays were negative, so he was given a brace and went back on the field.
- Despite the late points given up by the Badgers, Andersen said he wasn't discouraged by the effort and it would not dampen the mood of the group.