MADISON — No. 7 Wisconsin started quick on Saturday in their 48-3 win over Illinois. Their 21 points in the first 15 minutes marked the Badgers’ high for the first quarter in over three years. That was against the Illini as well, putting up three touchdowns and extra points in a 56-32 win at Champaign in 2013.
From start to finish, UW (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) controlled the game. Though there were a few blips in terms of big gains by Illinois, Wisconsin did not allow a touchdown and allowed only 4.4 yards per play.
That’s now seven straight wins by Wisconsin -- which is the longest win streak in the history of the rivalry by either team.
Three things we learned from UW’s overwhelming win:
Wisconsin’s running game is coming together
Left guard Jon Dietzen said earlier this week that the Badgers’ run game needed to start rolling faster. Illinois came into the game giving up more than 190 yards on the ground, so there was ample opportunity to start the momentum early.
On Saturday, they did that to the tune of 363 rushing yards — the most ever in the Chryst era — with a solid average of 5.7 per carry. Senior running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale both eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
Clement is the workhorse of the Wisconsin rush attack, taking the rock 25 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns. UW utilized him in the backfield, while also splitting him out as a pseudo-wide receiver on those jet sweeps were a new wrinkle in the ever-evolving Paul Chryst offense.
That change of pace back, Ogunbowale thrived again under that 11 personnel, gaining 103 yards on only seven carries.
In the first half alone, the Badgers ran for 171 yards on 31 carries (5.5 yards per carry). That included rushes of 23 yards by Clement, with 48 and 17 yard dashes by Ogunbowale sprinkled in.
Redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw also contributed 80 yards on 19 carries on the afternoon, including his three-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring on the game.
The passing game only gained 92 yards, but it didn’t need to beat Illinois through the air.
Interceptions led the way to UW’s win
The Wisconsin defense leads this team week in and week out, and against the Illini, they found the ball quite often. How much so? Illinois completed only seven passes, but also threw four others — to Badgers defenders, that is.
Those led to 17 points for Wisconsin (all in the first half), which included three interceptions by its safeties. Redshirt sophomore D’Cota Dixon’s pick and 40-yard return set up UW’s second touchdown of the day by Clement from four yards out. Safety Leo Musso made an acrobatic interception on a Jeff George, Jr. overthrow while keeping one foot in bounds late in the first quarter. That led to Bart Houston’s seven-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston for a 28-3 lead.
In one of those plays you’ll see over and over for the next week, Musso’s second interception came off the foot of fellow senior Sojourn Shelton. The pass was intended for receiver Malik Turner, but Shelton’s pass break-up was the redshirt senior’s gain.
Inside linebacker Ryan Connelly, who again led the team in tackles with six (1.5 for loss), rose to the task yet again. He tackled running back Reggie Corbin late in the first quarter for a two-yard gain, but could have gone for more if the former walk-on didn’t make the play. He also intercepted a pass that led to Andrew Endicott’s 37-yard field goal to make it 31-3 before halftime.
UW completely stymied Illinois’ offense and George, Jr.. The Illinois legacy completed only 5-of-16 passes for 79 yards with those four pics. The Illini did make some plays on the ground, reeling off several runs of over 15 yards during the game. Connelly admitted after the game the draws did get to them a few times.
The Badgers’ defense clamped down, however, not allowing a third down conversion and 200 yards total.
Wisconsin is still in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West
Redshirt junior defensive end Alec James said on Wednesday there was a discussion about not allowing “outside noise” to interfere with the team. Against a rebuilding Illinois team, Wisconsin showed it wasn’t phased by the hype and that it could capitalize on mistakes and make opponents pay.
It’ll be worth watching Minnesota versus Nebraska later tonight to see who emerges in the race to catch the Badgers, but right now, the wheels are spinning in the right direction for UW in their pursuit to return to Indianapolis.
Week-by-week, they’ll need to continue to focus on each opponent to get there. Based on the discipline and focus of this team seen this year, they won’t have a problem preparing for Purdue and Minnesota in these final two regular season games.