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Illinois vs. Wisconsin: After win, what's next for the Badgers?

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After facing both early and late scares in their 38-28 win over Illinois on Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers quelled several concerns that arose in the wake of their loss at Northwestern last week. A few quick notes:

  • Gary Andersen did follow through with his decision to play both Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy, but McEvoy took the field for just one possession, during which he completed a few nice passes. Stave, who played the remainder of the game, didn't stuff the stat sheet (7-for-14, 73 yards). But the game's most important statistic was zero turnovers, especially after Stave threw three picks against Northwestern.
  • Melvin Gordon played like Melvin Gordon once again. He continued his tear through the 2014 schedule, rushing for 175 yards and four touchdowns. Corey Clement added a career-high 164 yards on an astronomical 12.6 yards per carry. It was Wisconsin's second 400+-yard rushing day of the year.
  • The Badgers' defense kept a high-octane Illini offense under wraps for most of the game, keeping them off the scoreboard for the second and third quarters, and allowing just 288 total yards on the day.
  • Andy Ludwig's playcalling was much better than last week. After calling 37 runs and 29 passes against Northwestern, Ludwig called 47 rushes compared with just 18 passes -- Stave didn't pass until the Badgers' third possession -- and finally (finally!) brought back the jet sweep.

1Q WIS N. Jamerson run for 23 yds for a 1ST down

Despite the positives, a 10-point home win against Illinois is unlikely to propel Wisconsin back into the AP Top 25.

A week ago, I was far from pleased with the quarterback situation. This week, I'm a bit more optimistic, not due to the playmaking of Stave and McEvoy, but because of how Ludwig limited his quarterbacks. Used sparingly, both can keep the offense flowing nicely. The problems come when they need to throw the ball more and make plays, which will come in games in which the Badgers trail. That's when I expect to see the same issues resurface.

Around the Big Ten

If the Badgers hope to play in one of the four prestigious New Year's Bowls (Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton), they need to win the Big Ten West, which remains an attainable goal.

Minnesota and Iowa, who both won on Saturday, remain atop the division. At 1-1 in the conference, the Badgers find themselves in the mix of the division race. They will need to shake off Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers before entering the home stretch against several stingy opponents: Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

Looking forward

The Badgers have a bye next Saturday. Here are three Big Ten West games for Wisconsin fans to keep an eye on during the bye:

  • Purdue vs. Minnesota (11 a.m. CT)
  • Iowa vs. Maryland (11 a.m. CT)
  • Nebraska vs. Northwestern (6:30 p.m. CT)

The following week, Wisconsin takes on a 4-2 Maryland team. After two impressive road wins against Syracuse and Indiana, last week the Terrapins were manhandled by Ohio State, 52-24, and take on Iowa at home next week. The Oct. 25 matchup in Madison will be the Terrapins' first Big Ten road game, so expect the Badgers and their fans to take advantage. After all, you may remember the result last time the Badgers welcomed a Big Ten newcomer to Camp Randall.

Maryland allows 212 rushing yards per game, so expect Gordon and Clement to capitalize. It could be another uninvolved day for Stave/McEvoy.

Maryland head coach Randy Edsall benched sixth-year senior quarterback C.J. Brown at halftime against Ohio State, but said last week that "there's no controversy" and that Brown will remain his starter. With a 57.5 percent completion percentage, Brown is an inaccurate passer. [To put that into perspective, that's just 0.3 percent higher than McEvoy's completion percentage.] So yes, he is an inaccurate passer. Look for Dave Aranda to attempt to rattle Brown early, sending Michael Caputo and Derek Landisch on pressure blitzes like he did on Saturday. Also, Warren Herring, a key pass rusher and run stopper, is expected to return for the Maryland game.

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Saturday's win represented a step forward for the Badgers. It was an explosive day for the running game, a solid defensive effort and a decent outing by the quarterbacks. After watching the abominable performance in Evanston last week, Wisconsin fans can at least crack a smile heading into the bye week.