The Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 2-1) look to keep pace with the Big Ten West division-leading Iowa Hawkeyes, as Paul Chryst's squad heads across the border to face an improved Illinois Fighting Illini (4-2, 1-1) team on Saturday.
The Badgers come off a 24-7 win on homecoming weekend against the Purdue Boilermakers. Redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave passed for 322 yards, while the offense accounted for three rushing touchdowns -- including two from true freshman and converted-inside-linebacker Alec Ingold.
The defense held its own against a struggling Purdue offense, allowing 10 points or under in its fifth of seven games played during the 2015 season. Led by senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert, the Badgers' defense has allowed only 10.9 points per game -- third-best in the nation.
Wisconsin takes on a rejuvenated Illinois team. B5Q's Andrew Rosin previewed the Illini:
When you have a pretty efficient combination of quarterback Wes Lunt and one of sixteen people to average one hundred yards per game catching the ball in wide receiver Geronimo Allison, you definitely have a challenge set up through the air for the player that draws them -- yet his receiving tag team partner Marchie Allison is set to miss the game. And while Desmond Cain and Malik Taylor are both talented and athletic, they are rather young wide receivers. A veteran and experienced secondary is set to face what one could argue is their best wide receiver of the season. But his support might not be ready.
In the running game, the Illini have statistically trailed the Badgers in terms of all the major categories. In most seasons, that's fine. After all, toting the rock to a ridiculous level is what the Badgers do. That said, Illinois joins Purdue as teams whose running games are lesser than the Badgers. When healthy, that is not a problem -- but senior running back and second best weapon on the team, Josh Ferguson, is out. The youth amongst the Badgers front seven is set to face true freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who while talented, hasn't really been a big play threat on the ground with 397 yards on 4.1 yards per carry (though he has broken off a 48-yard run this season).
As for the Badgers, the question is will the back teaming with Dare Ogunbowale be Alec Ingold or possibly Corey Clement? Clement's achingly close to a return, but it's not as certain as the fact that Tawian Deal is flat out for the game. Ingold runs with the leverage and power of an all-state wrestler, but Clement is a strong upgrade -- and with a run defense that has been shown to be had by power five opponents, there are gains to be made on the front seven led by junior defensive linemen Chunky Clements.
The pass defense can shut down an opponent with a subpar quarterback (Insert your joke about redshirt senior Joel Stave...here), but this is a passing game that has weapons that have more quantity, if not the statistical quality of Middle Tennessee. (Middle Tennessee already has two wide receivers with 50-plus catches. Seriously. They're pretty great.) I'm not gonna tell you that a bad day from Stave is out of the question, but linebacker Dawuane Smoot has five of their six sacks on the year. Keep him blocked and odds are the Badgers are set to have a real strong day through the air especially if the hands remain as strong as they were last week.
The special teams aspect that is most interesting is the place kicking. Sophomore Rafael Gaglianone has been cursed by the support of Hamm (B5Q writer Drew Hamm) and is currently 10-for-17 on field goals or worse than Kyle French in 2012. For the Illini, Taylor Zalewski is 8-for-13. In a game that could be close, the shakiness of the kicker might be the difference.
Read below for the game's complete viewing information.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini | Saturday, Oct. 24 | 3:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. CT | Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
TV: Big Ten Network
Live stream: The game can be live streamed on BTN2Go (subscription required)
Mobile: BTN2Go mobile app for iOS and Android phones.
TV crew: Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Lisa Byington (sideline reporter)
Radio: Badger Sports Network; Satellite: Sirius 81, XM 81; Mobile: iHeartRadio app (WIBA)
Radio crew: Matt Lepay (play-by-play), Mike Lucas (analyst), Patrick Herb (sideline reporter)