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Fighting Illini, You’re On STATWATCH PLAID

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We dive deep into the numbers to try and figure out what happened last year against Illinois and how it can be avoided this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Illinois comes to Camp Randall Stadium on Friday night. Let’s dig into their 2019 stats and see how the Fighting Illini did on both sides of the ball.

Total Plays of 10+ Yards Or More

Offense Name 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+
Offense Name 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+
Rushing Wisconsin 92 26 12 9 3
Rushing Illinois 64 18 9 5 3
Passing Wisconsin 119 30 12 5 3
Passing Illinois 98 32 15 7 3
cfbstats.com

Jonathan Taylor had 61 rushes of at least 10 yards last year. That’s almost as much as all of Illinois had - and they got that production from two players that have exhausted their eligibility. Brandon Peters can still throw it to Josh Imatorbhebhe, Donny Navarro, Ricky Smalling and Daniel Barker, who all had at least 10 catches of 10 yards. Imtorbhebhe is the deep threat, averaging almost 20 yards a catch.

Their issues are just staying on the field.

Offense - Down and Distance

Situation IllinoisAtt WiscAtt Illinois1stDowns Wisc1stDowns
Situation IllinoisAtt WiscAtt Illinois1stDowns Wisc1stDowns
All Plays 857 963 208 308
1st Down 370 441 60 100
2nd Down 288 310 81 102
3rd Down 184 189 62 89
3rd Down, 1-3 To Go 43 70 30 46
3rd Down, 4-6 To Go 46 53 19 22
3rd Down, 7-9 To Go 40 39 9 15
3rd Down, 10+ To Go 55 27 4 6
4th Down 15 23 5 17
cfbstats.com

Wisconsin played one more game than the bowl-participating Illinois Fighting Illini. Wisconsin had one hundred more first downs. Illinois had major issues getting behind the chains, seeing a 3rd and 10+ more often than any grouping, while Wisconsin was able to shorter yardage distances regularly. Plus, their fourth down conversion rate left a lot to be desired, wiping out their +10 turnover advantage through their turnovers on downs.

Defensive Breakdowns of 10+ Yards or More

Defense Name 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+
Defense Name 10+ 20+ 30+ 40+ 50+
Rushing Wisconsin 53 21 7 3 0
Rushing Illinois 75 23 9 8 3
Passing Wisconsin 112 37 11 5 4
Passing Illinois 114 49 13 7 3
cfbstats.com

Defensively, Wisconsin got victimized by 10+ and 20+ yard plays at an average rate, but tackled opponents before they went for at least 30 yards regularly. Illinois could not keep opponents from breaking long plays.

Defense - Down and Distance

Situation IllinoisAtt WisconsinAtt Illinois1stDowns Wisconsin1stDowns
Situation IllinoisAtt WisconsinAtt Illinois1stDowns Wisconsin1stDowns
All Plays 949 839 255 199
1st Down 420 366 76 76
2nd Down 315 269 98 66
3rd Down 192 177 68 46
3rd Down, 1-3 To Go 50 30 33 14
3rd Down, 4-6 To Go 51 43 16 13
3rd Down, 7-9 To Go 43 36 10 12
3rd Down, 10+ To Go 48 68 9 7
4th Down 22 27 13 11
cfbstats.com

If you didn’t move the chains on first or second down, the Illini were fine, holding opponents to a fine 37% conversion rate. The Badgers? Best in the nation at 27%, thanks for asking.

SO WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED LAST YEAR

In order of nuance...

  1. -2 on the turnover margin. That margin was at even before Wisconsin’s final two possessions of the game.
  2. Wisconsin had four drives lasting longer than 50 yards & 10+ snaps. They resulted, in order: touchdown, a made 24 yard field goal, a missed 37 yard field goal and a made 20 yard field goal.
  3. Illinois had four drives lasting longer than 30 yards. They resulted, in order: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and a made 39 yard field goal. That field goal was a game-ending drive where they basically used three snaps to drain timeouts when in range, and it was their only drive over six plays.

The difference was Illinois used their handful of big plays to get seven points instead of three. Every other time they had possession, they were uninterested in keeping it - eight drives, 99 total yards. Even being gifted a touchdown following a Illinois fumbled on their own 15 couldn’t make up for the simple math of 7 > 3 + 3.

I-L-L

Last season, there were two road games to stadiums I hadn’t been to yet - Memorial Stadium (not the one in Lincoln or Bloomington, the Champaign-Urbana one) and Ohio Stadium. They’re both drive-able, but being on consecutive weekends meant I’d drive the ~4 hours through the most mind-numbing parts of Illinois and fly to Columbus.

The Friday I’m about to start heading to Champaign, the “cold” I had been fighting all week turned again, and I scheduled an appointment for the clinic. If that didn’t underscore the fact I was legitimately sick, I only had three beers all weekend.

Tuesday afternoon, I go to the clinic and get checked out. I’m sure I impressed the doctor with my fandom when I, dead tired, hoarsely asked “Think I’ll be able to fly to Columbus?” After she reviewed my lab work, her voicemail said “Cancel your plans, you have mono.”

While I laid on my couch, unable to regulate my body temperature as the rains and Buckeyes came down hard on the Badgers that following weekend, I was able to take a little solace in the fact that Ohio State’s back on the schedule in two years.