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Grading Wisconsin’s win at Illinois

The Badgers ground out a victory on the road.

Wisconsin v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Well, that was underwhelming.

A gray and blustery Midwestern day saw some ugly Big Ten football as Wisconsin went on the road to knock off Illinois 24–10. Wisconsin’s offensive woes continued while the Badgers’ defense once again starred against an overmatched opponent.

Here are the unit grades.

Offense: C-

We’ve seen this before, right?

Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook went 10-of-19 for 135 yards and an interception. He had two third-down conversions dropped—one by A.J. Taylor and one by Kendric Pryor—but once again looked shaky throughout.

With freshman running back Jonathan Taylor missing wide stretches of the game with a left leg injury, redshirt freshman running back Garrett Groshek and sophomore Bradrick Shaw picked up the slack on the ground. Groshek finished with 51 yards and a touchdown and looked the stronger of the two backs in relief of Taylor.

Junior left tackle Michael Deiter scored a touchdown. That was pretty rad.

Defense: A

The defense held Illinois to 286 total yards on offense. Pressure on oft-changing Illini quarterbacks Cam Thomas and Jeff George, Jr., was consistent and Wisconsin had five sacks on the day.

Facing a weak Illinois passing game, the secondary made some big plays. Senior cornerback Derrick Tindal intercepted Thomas on Illinois’s first drive. Junior cornerback Nick Nelson led the team with four broken-up passes. Through eight games this season, Nelson has recorded 14 pass break-ups, tying Jamar Fletcher (2000) and Jim Leonhard (2002) for fourth-most in UW history for a single season.

Senior safety Joe Ferguson, getting the start in place of the injured D’Cota Dixon, intercepted Thomas in the fourth quarter as Illinois drove deep into the Wisconsin defensive zone.

In the second quarter, redshirt sophomore linebacker Tyler Johnson forced a George, Jr., fumble that was recovered by defensive end Alec James, leading to Groshek’s second-quarter touchdown.

Special Teams: B+

Junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone closed the second quarter with a 52-yard field goal and made all of his PAT attempts. Sophomore punter Anthony Lotti had a couple of rough kicks into the wind, including a 15-yarder in the first half trying to pin Illinois deep and a third-quarter blooper that netted out to 40 yards on a generous roll.

Coaching: B

The penalties that have plagued Wisconsin the past few games were blissfully absent.

With injuries to the skill positions taking a toll, the offense couldn’t muster much of anything for wide stretches. That said, the backwards “pass” (officially a backward lateral) trick play that led to Deiter’s four-yard touchdown “run” may have been the most entertaining call this season.

The defensive game plan kept an equally banged-up (and bizarrely coached) Illinois offense bottled up all game.

Overall: B-

Not much to take away from this one that we didn’t already know. Wisconsin was never really challenged by an inferior opponent.

The offense sputtered even before Taylor left the game as Illinois stacked the box and dared Wisconsin to throw. The Badgers really couldn’t, which bodes ill now that the schedule turns to some better competition. There is still much to square away if Wisconsin wants to win the Big Ten.