Welcome to another edition of the B5Q roundtable.
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) is still in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West title if it wins out the remainder of the regular season, and according to the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway, could clinch the division with a win Saturday at Purdue and some help.
To break down the dominant win, we welcomed some of our writers to talk about the good, the bad and who deserved their game balls.
THE GOOD: Lots to go around, but what stood out most to you with Saturday’s game?
Owen Riese: The running game was awesome, but I think the more outstanding part was the opportunistic nature of the defense. Just like in basketball, the trap doesn't get the steal, the guys jumping passing lanes behind the trap, and that's what happened. Coach Wilcox knew that Jeff George Jr. would get trigger happy with the pressure, so he put the defenders in a position to jump the passes, particularly Ryan Connelly’s. The defense will need to continue to generate pressure and turnovers to compensate for the lack of depth.
Jon Beidelschies: What struck me most was how different the offense plays now that everyone is healthy and not playing against very good defenses. It’s probably self-evident, I know, but it makes me wonder how much our concerns have been influenced by the fact that this team has played a really difficult slate. This was the first game where I noticed consistent “old school Wisconsin” 7- or 8-yard gashes by the running backs. Makes me wonder if there is improvement, if health was a bigger factor than we previously noticed, or if is just a function of playing some gosh-darned tough teams.
Also (and this is more of a general observation than a “good/bad”) the other thing that stood out to me was how little Bart Houston played and how he was used when he did. It seems to me that he is settling into the same type of role that a “change of pace” back fills. I think that Paul Chryst’s decision to run some trickeration with Houston in a game that was getting out reach was his way of forcing opponents to spend preparation time on yet one more thing that may or may not be used.
Curt Hogg: Wisconsin didn’t allow any third-down conversion, which thwarted any chance of Illinois racking up drives and, thus, points. It was the first time since 1998 that the Badgers held their opponent without a third-down conversion. The pass rush didn’t result in the sacks, but Wisconsin did more than enough up front to disrupt the Illini passing game. On the back end in the secondary, it was business as usual.
THE BAD: Areas that didn’t sit well with you after the game?
Owen: The passing game is so bipolar, man. We're talking about a potential College Football Playoff team that routinely flirts with not reaching 200, and sometimes 100 passing yards. It has to be improved moving forward, because a potential match-up with Alabama in the Playoff could loom, and they showed what they could do to LSU and Fournette offensively with no threat of a pass. Also, the offensive line was beaten up pretty badly at the line of scrimmage, that has to stop.
Jon: The thing that was worrying to me was the long ball that was going over the top of the defense. The Illini couldn’t do anything with the quarterback and skill players they had, but I wonder if a team with elite wide outs will look at the game tape and note that there were some plays that were there to be made. That’s how the Badgers lost the Michigan game and I worry what will happen in a big time bowl game and possibly the Big Ten Championship game.
Curt: Adding to Owen above, the Badgers didn’t need to pass the ball all that much, but that part of the game didn’t leave you feeling all that well. Hornibrook hung in there and made some solid throws and the running game dominated, but there were a few moments where you would have liked to see more separation, more time in the pocket or a better throw. It wasn’t a disgusting taste in your mouth from the passing game, but it also wasn’t a good one, either.
GAME BALLS: MVP for Saturday’s win?
Owen: I'm gonna give this one to safety Leo Musso. The senior had two picks yesterday, both in pretty spectacular fashion. He's been an anchor in the back of that defense, and he stood out in a game that he should have.
Jon: “Coredarick Clegunbowalshaw,” the three-headed, running back hydra that ate the heart out of Illinois. The backs are really starting to hit their stride. Clement is rounding into the player we all thought he would be, Ogunbowale is looking like someone who might have a nice career in the league, and I particularly like that Shaw is starting to emerge - these reps will pay dividends next year.
Curt: Going to have to go with the guys up front on the Wisconsin offensive line. Clement, Ogunbowale and Shaw all had their way with Illinois, thanks in large part to effective execution by the line. Consistently, the backs could get to the second level against the Illini. On a few of Ogunbowale’s big runs, the line was also at that point. It was good to see that domination.
UP NEXT: PURDUE. Early keys to the game
Owen: Show up? All kidding aside, Purdue is not a very good football team, and if the Badgers come out and put points on the board quickly like against Illinois, the game should get out of hand pretty quickly. Expect another heavy dose of the running game, heading into a physical match-up with the Gophers to end the regular season.
Jon: As with Illinois -- bury them early. This is going to be their national title game. If Purdue defeats Wisconsin it will salvage what has been an abysmal season for them. Take hope away early, pile on, and get the starters out. I think Chryst will do a good job of keeping the focus on next week and not looking ahead, but the Badgers have struggled with teams they should beat this season (hi, Georgia State). Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday.
Curt: Purdue has given up more than 40 points in five Big Ten games. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has only allowed more than 17 points in a game once this season. The Boilermakers rank last in scoring and total defense in the conference. They also rank last in rushing offense, and are second-worst in rushing defense. Need I say more? Establish the run game early and pile on from there. The committee is watching.