The second loss is always time to reassess your goals. You’re not winning the national championship. You’re lucky if you get Ohio State, even. But we’ve all hashed and rehashed and threehashed the results of the Michigan game. That’s last week. This week? Homecoming! Illinois! If the Badgers win, the Brewers are going to win the World Series!
Until the state of Wisconsin vibrates with every pitch of Game 7 of the NLCS, the Badgers have a game with Illinois. I will give you the three most-accurate predictions for a single game you’ll ever see.
Likely Case: While the Fighting Illini have a defense that on a per-play basis has been worse than Rutgers, there have been flashes of a good team amongst the dreck of their 3–3 start. It’s turned out to be fleeting, as the two ranked teams they held leads on either ran them over (Penn State) or came back to win late (South Florida), but an impatient team can find itself not scoring commensurate with the on paper talent. I mean, I’m not saying Wisconsin isn’t going to find the end zone. Illinois has allowed 18.7 plays of 10 or more yards on defense, which is good for a tie for 119th in the nation. It’s just when you have a defense that can generate turnovers through the air (the Illini have 11, one of nine teams with double-digit interceptions) and a defense that is actually performing at a level commensurate with the Badgers in terms of getting off the field on third down?
The Illini can keep relying on AJ Bush to team with Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin as a trio of run threats rather than making Bush throw the ball longer than you think. Obviously, the Badgers on-paper offensive talent is enough that whatever defense the Illini put up will break down in a form or fashion similar to the Badgers last Saturday. It’s not going to take deception for the Badgers to breathe, but they haven’t shown enough for me to think this is going to be a pure, old-fashioned, beat-them-down scenario.
Best Case: Then again, the Illini get struck for big gains 25.9 percent of the time (119 plays of greater than 10 yards out of 459 total). The Badgers have a running back of an all-world skill level in Jonathan Taylor. They have an offensive line feeling confident that they can open holes for him. If the pass rush is still a question, the Illini aren’t super into pressuring the QB, so never mind that. Their losses involved teams running more than passing. Am I saying the Badgers run over the Illini and Taylor goes and gets 300 yards? Yes. Yes I am.
Worst Case: Weird things tend to happen when the Badgers play the Illini. There haven’t been any upsets, but Taylor didn’t rush for 100 yards when they played last year. That sort of thing. In a worst-case scenario, injuries strike the Badgers’ secondary to the point where you-know-who’s the nickel back in the fourth quarter? You better have studied the playbook, because guess what? It’s you.