The Wisconsin Badgers have been without Corey Clement for the majority of the 2015 season with his sports hernia injury.
Thus, head coach Paul Chryst's offense relied on redshirt senior Joel Stave to carry the offense, and he has for the most part while averaging 244 yards per game through the air. However, when Stave was knocked out of Saturday's game at Illinois with a head injury, Wisconsin needed to rely on redshirt junior Bart Houston at quarterback to lead an offense that was missing five key starters.
The results: the back-up throwing for 232 yards and two touchdown passes, and a defense allowing only 13 points in a a hard-fought, resilient 24-13 victory over the Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.
1. Bart Houston asserted himself well despite a couple of mistakes. The former prep standout from California came in and threw the ball well for the most part, albeit with some errors along the way. Completing over 66 percent of his passes (22-of-33), Houston showed he can run Chryst's offense and move the ball well without really missing a beat (and no, there's no quarterback controversy at the moment).
Houston did make a couple of errors -- a bad interception at the end of the first half, along with a bad pick that he should have thrown away in the fourth quarter with the Badgers already up 11 -- but for the most part, he was impressive in his first effort with significant, meaningful playing time.
Also credit Chryst and his staff for making adjustments against Illinois's attacking front from the first two series, going to more rollouts and re-establishing some of the fly sweeps that made the Illini defense honest in guarding the edge.
2. Wisconsin's defense contained a potent receiving target and passing offense. The Badgers gave up 333 yards on the afternoon -- only 55 rushing -- to an Illini offense that many were worried about. They held wide receiver Geronimo Allison to only eight receptions for 99 yards, and they held quarterback Wes Lunt to just over a 50 percent completion percentage.
UW also forced two turnovers and made Lunt uneasy in the pocket at times. Another solid effort for Dave Aranda's bunch, who came into the game only allowing 10.9 points per game.
3. Despite injuries all around, the Badgers were still competitive and adapted for the win. Going into the game, if you were to know that the starting quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver and center would all be out of the game or would be knocked out later, would you have picked Wisconsin to win?
This team is showing its resilience when down to its second and fourth tailback, its back-up quarterback and seeing its stud center knocked out of the game with a not-so-great looking right knee injury. The defense held for the most part, despite the bad five-play, 86-yard drive that led to the Illini taking a 13-10 lead in the third quarter. The offense still drove the ball despite the injuries and got the points needed to take a win out of Champaign.
These wins haven't been pretty, and they haven't been able to truly establish a "dagger" mentality (see: Wisconsin's second-to=last drive with Houston's second interception of the afternoon), but the Bdagers have grinded out victories when they could have instead cashed in.