This should be fun. Right?
Wisconsin entered Saturday’s matchup in Illinois as 31 point favorites. The game transpired very differently, as the Illini beat the Badgers on a last second field goal.
In this weekly installment, let’s rattle off three items that I think we learned about the Badgers after their game Saturday.
The Wisconsin run game is struggling
Most fans believed that the Northwestern game was simply an aberration. A microcosm of Northwestern’s strong run defense. Michigan State has one of the best front sevens in the nation, so it was logical that Wisconsin would struggle running the ball on them to an extent.
But Illinois? The Illini entered Saturday’s contest ranked No. 107 in rushing defense and No. 100 in total defense. The Badgers were only able to muster 156 yards on the ground on 43 carries. An average of only 3.6 yards per carry. For a team predicated on the running game, that’s not great.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor's @PFF_College grades vs. Illinois...— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 20, 2019
68.0 in 2019 (season grade: 90.8)
69.4 in 2018 (season grade: 92.2)
68.4 in 2017 (season grade: 89.2)
In the three games referenced above, Wisconsin has struggled to run the ball. With the nations best running back, and an offensive line that is lead by arguably the best center in football this is surprising. Northwestern held Wisconsin to 3.6 yards per carry. Michigan State held the Badgers to 4.8 yards per carry overall. Take out Kendric Pryor’s 66 yard jet sweep and Wisconsin only averaged 3.47 yards per carry on traditional running plays.
Notice a trend?
Jack Coan has been solid this year in the passing game. The running game should be better, and needs to be better going forward. The tradition of running the football well, no matter the opponent, has not materialized to this point in 2019. It is safe to say that Wisconsin’s offensive line is one major reason for the drop off, play calling has been another.
After three games of not being able to run the ball consistently against Big Ten foes, adjustments need to be made in order to get back on track. Jonathan Taylor is too good of a running back to not produce at a high level.
The “switch” wasn’t activated for the offense this week
Wisconsin has had a mantra all season long of “no switch.” The saying is a reference to the Badgers coming out to play prepared and sharp immediately each game.
@TomOatesWSJ: UW's on-off switch has been stuck in the on position, an approach that will come in handy Saturday when the #Badgers face a struggling Illinois team. https://t.co/ouSWOVog1E— Wisconsin State Journal (@WiStateJournal) October 19, 2019
Well, the light switch was never found on Saturday.
After a nice opening touchdown drive, the Badgers couldn’t finish anything the rest of the game. The only other touchdown came on a short field as a result of the defense forcing a fumble inside the Illinois 20.
Wisconsin made it to Illinois territory on nine drives, and dominated the time of possession by over 20 minutes. The inability to capitalize came back to bite the Badgers who did not seem to play either prepared or sharp.
The coaching staff and the players all struggled on Saturday. Wisconsin left the door open for the entirety of the game against Illinois, and the Illini were able to maneuver their way through it for a win.
The definition of letting a team hang around and not being able to finish.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) October 20, 2019
Wisconsin’s last four drives:
- missed field goal
- field goal after 1st and goal from inside the five
Illinois made the plays in the fourth the Badgers couldn’t... https://t.co/gpD4ZjEwa3
Coan was an astounding 10 for 11 on third down with eight conversions, helping Wisconsin move the chains even with the running game ineffective. However, that one missed pass was an interception and the kiss of death for the Badgers.
Bottom line, the Wisconsin offense had it’s opportunities all game long and were unable to finish the job. Wisconsin will need to switch things up offensively to play better down the Big Ten stretch.
Big play problems
The Wisconsin front seven was able to put pressure on the quarterback all day long. Chris Orr had three sacks.
Wisconsin surrendered too many big plays on Saturday, many of which were due to missed tackles.
Illinois did not have startling offensive numbers. Brandon Peters only completed nine passes, and completed them under 50% of the time. Those nine throws though went for 174 yards and two touchdowns, a clip of over 19 yards per completion.
Corbin runs up the middle, 43-yards for the score. The Illini get its second 40+ yards score of the game.— BOOcky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) October 19, 2019
In the running game, Illinois only amassed 141 yards rushing. Reggie Corbin had 43 of his 83 yards rushing on one play. Dre Brown ran for 70 yards on only 11 carries.
Wisconsin had minimized big plays for the most part in 2019 up until Illinois.
Wisconsin will need to be better at tackling going forward, because the big plays stung on Saturday.