The Good: What went well for the Badgers on Saturday?
Neal Olson: There have certainly been more talented Wisconsin football teams, but it would be hard to argue there is a grittier one. Down their starting quarterback, running back, tight end and center, the Badgers still outplayed a decent Illinois team on the road. Seemingly every week, there are a few surprise performances that help keep the Badgers winning football games. Against Illinois, it was Bart Houston and Alex Erickson. While the Big Ten West championship is likely out of the question, the Badgers are laying a solid foundation for the future.
Jon Arens: I have to agree with Neal. This is definitely not a traditional Wisconsin football team, but if you value diversity of experience as an aid for learning, you have to see the value in what this season represents for the program going forward. The Badgers are learning to win games they should not win, and have not traditionally won. I mean, honestly, when was the last time UW won when its leading rusher was not a running back? (waits) I think I've made my point. For a team this injured and this limited to have two conference road wins is a tremendous accomplishment.
Owen Riese: Not as much as I'd like, but you can't ignore the play of Houston, coming in for relief of Joel Stave. It was nice to see that we weren't handcuffed by having the backup in, as Chryst trusted Houston to let it rip. He was able to move the ball well, but two pretty bad Interceptions should stave (no pun intended) off a quarterback competition. Houston put in a nice effort for a job audition for next season.
Luke Mueller: You'd have to say resiliency. Not everyone is on the Stave bandwagon (I'm on again, off again admittedly), but anytime a team loses its undisputed QB -- who had thrown for 300 yards the previous two games -- you have to question its ability to win especially when it's struggled to run the ball all year. This team responded to the injury in the best way possible by fighting through that injury and an injury to center Dan Voltz, too. This isn't a powerhouse team, but in a weak West Division, the Badgers have found a way to keep getting W's, which is all they can do to put themselves in the best position come bowl season.
The Bad: What hurt Wisconsin against Illinois?
Neal: Once again, injuries had a huge impact on the game plan. Losing Stave one series and two plays into the game and Voltz later on is just another chapter in an injury-plagued season for the Badgers. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season long, but has been tested with injuries to nearly every position starting in fall camp. All the shuffling combined with relative youth has hampered what was already considered to be a "rebuilding" year up front.
Jon: Illinois has one of the better defensive lines in the conference, and it showed. Several of its linemen could be playing on Sundays in the near future. This offensive line lacks the anchor that most of the Badger offensive lines have had the last decade, but that will soon change, as Paul Chryst's staff, particularly OL savant Joe Rudolph, gradually shifts the offense back to its roots. Stave's long release really stood out when compared to the quick trigger Houston showed once he was inserted into the game. Stave has had much more time to throw in previous seasons, and it likely never forced him to change his delivery. Without the time, the long downfield patterns do not have time to develop, which takes away Stave's greatest skill -- the 60-yard moonshot.
Owen: The offensive line has been far from the standard set in Madison. Clearly, youth has affected the group as, after Voltz left the game with a knee injury, the Badgers were putting out there a redshirt senior, redshirt freshman, redshirt freshman, redshirt junior and redshirt freshman. Early in the game, Stave was hit on his first three dropbacks, the third eventually taking him out of the game. They improved throughout the game, but the group still has a lot of progress to make. Good thing is, we've got time.
Luke: The easy callout here is the running game. Again, the Badgers struggled to run the ball against -- let's face it -- an average defense. They've had to find ways to get creative in order to get their running game going. Reinforcing that is the fact that Erickson is the leading rusher for the day. Dare Ogunbowale and Alec Ingold again struggled, averaging 2.6 and 2.0 yards per carry, respectively, to find a way to get downfield and move the sticks. Neither had a run over 10 yards. Don't get me wrong -- the offensive line is not your typical Wisconsin line and the two running backs are converted from other positions. But you'd still hope they could find a few openings and bust a run or two off to relieve the pressure on a backup quarterback getting his first real action of his career.
Team MVP: Who earned the honors down in Champaign?
Neal: Houston gets the nod for me here. Prior to Saturday, he did not have many opportunities to contribute meaningful football minutes for the Badgers. Replacing a three-year starter on the road in the Big Ten is a tall task for any quarterback, but Houston more than rose to the occasion. He delivered the ball confidently, accurately and never appeared to shrink from the big moment. His two red-zone interceptions were bad decisions, of course, and probably a small snapshot of why Stave has been able to remain the starter. However, Houston showed more than enough to be a capable backup if Stave should miss an extended period.
Jon: Has to be Houston. The former backup punter made some bad throws, including one to McEvoy in the endzone that was the definition of stupidity, but ultimately got the ball out quickly and to points where his targets could continue on with the ball after the catch. Without the art punt in the endzone, and the horrendous drop by Robert Wheelwright, Houston would've really had the #startbart fanboys buzzing on Wisconsin Twitter. Hats off to him for stepping up in a big spot on the road in front of the most raucous Illinois student section since at least 2008.
Owen: As has been the case for most of the year, the Badgers' defense was absolutely stifling. Michael Caputo with four tackles, a forced fumble and an interception led the unit. UW also got another stellar performance by the entire linebacking unit, as Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert pressed Wes Lunt off the edge, and T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr were stingy in the middle. Aside from one run, the Badgers had the Illini taking little gains rather than chunks.
Luke: The choice that stands out as your clear favorite would be Houston, but I'm going to go with Erickson. What can't this guy do?! He's like the Schobert/Biegel/Caputo of the offense where at the end of the game you reflect and say, "Wow! He just does everything that's asked of him and all of the little things right". Have him run a few end-arounds and he becomes your leading rusher (somewhere, George Rushing is scratching his head wondering where his carries from last year went on those plays). Help out the backup quarterback who hasn't played meaningful minutes since high school and catch 10 balls for nearly 100 yards and a TD. And not that it really showed during this game, but the kid from Darlington, Wis., can block too. He's everything you want in a teammate and my MVP for this game after 178 all-purpose yards.
Who's next: Rutgers. What do you want to see on Halloween from the Badgers?
Neal: As much as I feel like copying the bit from the past two weeks regarding Corey Clement, I'm venturing in a new direction. Leonte Carroo will come to town and provide a significant challenge for the Badgers' secondary. Carroo had tallied 14 receptions for 291 yards and six touchdowns in the two weeks before playing Ohio State this weekend. He was held out of the second half against the Buckeyes, presumably with an injury, but he has had some behavioral issues in the past, so... you never know. If he plays against the Badgers, it will be the biggest challenge they have faced to date this season. Carroo is a bona fide NFL caliber talent, so how will Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton hold up?
Jon: I am very worried about Carroo. Sojourn Shelton has shown little to suggest he is up to the task of guarding the Rutgers star receiver, so one can only hope Tanner McEvoy and Caputo can provide support over the top to limit literally all Rutgers has in the arsenal. Will Rutgers even know how to handle an 11:00 a.m. start time? I thought Rutgers and Maryland only played at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Will the NYC market revolt against the Big Ten for making them watch their beloved Scarlet Knights at noon? These are the important questions. If section M is half-full in the third quarter, I will be floored. This game was meant to be watched in a parking lot whilst dressed as a banana.
Owen: I think I'm probably not the only one that wants to see Clement return next weekend. A scary sight for a Rutgers defense who will be looking for some redemption from its spanking against Ohio State Saturday night. Clement said he'd only come back if we were in the Big Ten title race, and only a loss behind Iowa, we're still technically in it. Plus, Clement is a Jersey kid, he wants to play against the Scarlet Knights. Clement had 100-plus yards and two touchdowns last year against his home-state team in Piscataway.
Luke: I want to see the scariest guy on the football team have a big game on defense, Vince Biegel. After a coming-out-party of a year last season, the linebacker has rightfully not seen as much of the spotlight this season due to the development of his counterpart Joe "The Show" Schobert. I think Biegel puts on his scariest face and leaves Rutgers with nightmares on Halloween.