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Grading Wisconsin’s horrible, terrible and nauseating loss to Illinois

I’m not mad; I’m disappointed. Okay, I’m mad.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Rubric - Wisconsin Football Unit Grades

Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
A Excellent: Top-5 level performance
B Very good: Top-tier Big Ten performance
C Acceptable: Average for the Big Ten
D Unacceptable: Below average for the Big Ten
F Failure: Rutgers level performance
N/A Insufficient evidence for a grade

Let’s just get into it.

Offense: D+

O-line: D-


It all started out okay. The running game was inconsistent, but Jack Coan converted on several third downs. For most of the game, Coan was able to find the soft spot of the zone to Ferguson on several occasions.

Throughout the game, there was a lot of contact in the backfield, and the O-line play was wildly inconsistent.

Coan was pretty good all game, as was Jonathan Taylor. Coan threw for 264 yards, and Taylor added 132 more on the ground. The tight ends and receivers played pretty well, too, beating both man coverage and zone coverage.

However, Taylor and Coan gave the game away on two consecutive fourth quarter turnovers. Coan’s success was finding Ferguson in the soft spot of the zone, but he must have gotten overconfident on his last throw of the game. It looked like there was some space, but there wasn’t enough on the pass and Tony Adams went up and got it.

All three UW turnovers lead to Illinois touchdowns. If Wisconsin’s offense holds onto the ball, we’re talking about an ugly loss.

Defense: D-

Pass rush: D+
Pass coverage: F
Run defense: F


The pass rush was inconsistent; when Illinois QB Brandon Peters had time, he was able to light things up. Occasionally the blitz hit home, but it wasn’t enough.

Illinois entered the game No. 123 in explosive play rate on offense. I don’t have the stats in front of me right now, but Illinois had the most explosive plays of any offense Wisconsin faced this year.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This was mostly due to horrible tackling. Defense is supposed to travel, but it simply didn’t. With its back was against the wall on the final drive, it cracked.

In addition to the tackling woes, the Badgers struggled mightily with Illinois’ skill players, such as wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe.

Special Teams: C+

Kicking: C
Punting: B-
Returning: C+
Coverage: C+


I would have bet my left liver that Wisconsin’s first loss would be the fault of the special teams. Not so here. Yes, Collin Larsh missed a 37-yard field goal that could have changed the trajectory of the game, but he also made three other field goals including a 44-yarder.

Punting was pretty decent. The return game was average.

Coaching: F

Strategy: D
Adjustments: F
Play-calling: F


Lovie Smith out-coach Paul Chryst.

Wisconsin v Illinois
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Overall grade: D-

Unit Grades: D
Big plays: D
Game Control: F
Penalties & Discipline: F


Wisconsin played neck and neck with one of the worst teams in the Big Ten and fell in the last minute. This is the type of game I would expect from Northwestern vs. Illinois.

Bonus grades

Believing in Wisconsin football: C

At the beginning of the season, I wrote that one of my tailgating songs is “Break Your Heart ft. Ludacris” by Taio Cruz. I’ve learned to go into each season with the mindset that it’s going to be a roller coaster ride. I didn’t expect the first drop to be here, though.

Ohio State week: D-

Can we postpone that game? I wasn’t confident about Wisconsin’s chances at Ohio State before, and now I’m downright horrified.

Hockey being back in full swing: B+

(Author’s note: apologies to those viewing this on mobile. You may have more luck reading the table directly from the source.)

2019 Wisconsin Football Grade Book

Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Overall A- C+ A+ D- B- B- C B- A- B- C-
Unit Grade Composite A C+ A D B- B- C+ B B+ B- C+
Big Plays A- B A D C+ B- C B A C D
Game Control B D A+ F N/A C D- C A D D
Penalties & Discipline C- C+ A F C+ D C+ C- A B+ N/A
Offense A D A D+ C+ B B+ B+ A- B- C+
QB B D A D N/A C C- B- A B- C
OL A+ D+ A D- C+ B- A- B B+ B- C+
RB / FB A+ B B+ C N/A A A A B B+ B-
WR / TE B D A B N/A B+ B+ A A B C
Defense A A- A+ D- B C+ D+ C B B- B+
Pass rush A- A+ A+ D+ B C+ C+ C+ B+ B B+
Pass coverage B+ B+ A+ F B C- D+ D B- C+ A-
Run defense A+ B+ A+ F B B F B+ A+ B- B+
Special Teams C+ D B- C+ B C- B+ A+ B+ F A- & F
Kicking C- B+ B C B C- B A+ B D+ D+
Punting B C C B- B C- B- N/A C- F F
Returning C+ F B C+ B C- A N/A A D A+
Coverage C- B C C+ B N/A B N/A B+ D N/A
Coaching A C A F N/A B- C- C+ A B- N/A
Strategy A+ C A D N/A B- D+ C B+ B N/A
Adjustments B C N/A F N/A B C B A F N/A
Play Calling A C A F N/A B- C B- A+ B N/A