CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Perhaps the most accurate way to describe the offensive performances by both the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini could be by the weather conditions experienced during Saturday’s game.
Gray, chilly, and most of the time, dismal.
However, Wisconsin (8–0, 5–0 Big Ten) held on for the 24–10 win over Illinois (2–6, 0–5) as its defense held the Illini offense to just 286 yards while recording five sacks and forcing three turnovers.
Jonathan Taylor ran for 73 yards on 12 carries but appeared to suffer a left leg injury during the first half and did not return. Wisconsin’s offense gained only 303 total yards and converted five of 12 third downs for the game.
Afterward, head coach Paul Chryst said there was no update on Taylor’s status.
It was a difficult start with two straight three-and-outs for Chryst’s offense. It would have been three straight series, but an illegal substitution on fourth down by Illinois allowed UW to retain possession.
The Badgers took advantage of the miscue, however, by continuing a 15-play, 92-yard drive—all but one snap was a pass—with fullback Alec Ingold taking it in from one yard out to put the Badgers up 7–0.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw a second-quarter interception into the hands of true freshman Bennett Williams, which then led to the Illini having the ball on UW’s 45-yard line, but Jim Leonhard’s defensive unit held yet again in a “sudden change” situation.
And yet again, the defense responded.
Walk-on outside linebacker Tyler Johnson strip-sacked quarterback Jeff George, Jr., on a 3rd-and-10, with senior defensive end Alec James recovering at midfield.
Fourteen times during the 2017 season the defense has had to take over in those “sudden change” opportunities. Only two touchdowns and three field goals have been allowed.
Wisconsin capitalized thereafter, driving down in seven plays for its second touchdown. Walk-on running back Garrett Groshek took it in from two yards out to make it 14–0 Wisconsin.
Groshek was utilized often, carrying the ball 12 times for 51 yards.
The teams then traded field goals before the end of the half.
Illinois drove 65 yards in 13 plays, its second-largest series of the day yardage-wise, capping it with a 28-yard field goal by junior Chase McLaughlin.
Wisconsin capped a five-play, 36-yard drive with Rafael Gaglianone’s 52-yard field goal to make it 17-3 at halftime.
Rafael Gaglianone just joined Taylor Mehlhaff and Philip Welch in #Badgers record book with three career FGs of 50-plus yards.— Andy Baggot (@AndyBaggot) October 28, 2017
After a scoreless third quarter, Illinois drove down to Wisconsin’s 18-yard line with under 10 minutes left in the game, but a holding penalty by Louis Dorsey bumped the Illini back. Safety Joe Ferguson—playing for the injured D’Cota Dixon—then intercepted a Cam Thomas pass and returned it 37 yards the very next play, nullifying any potential scoring opportunity.
George, Jr., and Thomas combined to complete nine of 31 passes for 152 yards with two interceptions.
Wisconsin then pulled together an eight-play, 57-yard drive, capped by what would officially be a four-yard touchdown “run” off the left side on third down by ... left tackle Michael Deiter.
Yes, left tackle Michael Deiter.
Illinois later compiled a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Kendrick Foster three-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring for the game.
Despite the ugly win, Wisconsin moves to 8–0 on the season and will face a challenge from Indiana on the road at Bloomington next week.