After securing their first Big Ten loss of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers (2-2 overall, 0-1 B1G) will look to salvage what’s left of their season. They take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-1 overall, 0-1 B1G) as a homecoming of sorts for their coach Bret Bielema at Camp Randall Stadium.
To preview what to expect on Saturday, let’s take a look at how Illinois has looked so far this season.
- Win vs Wyoming 38-6
- Loss vs. Indiana 23-20
- Win vs. Virginia 24-3
- Chattanooga 31-0
Status of the Offense
The Illini power offense is honestly looking better than the Badgers have. They're currently the #42 most productive offense in the country with 1,819 total yards. It seems to be producing wins or enough to keep them over .500 on the season four games in. Like Wisconsin, the Illini have a new offensive coordinator as Barry Lunney Jr. comes to Illinois from UTSAhelping Bielema run a standard power O mixed in with a vertical passing game.
Quarterback Tommy DiVito, a transfer from Syracuse, has completed 69% of his passes for just under 1,000 yards. He’s finding more than just one guy to connect with. Illinois has the 78th and 82nd most productive receivers in the game in terms of total yards. Pat Bryant’s pulled in 262 yards while Isaiah Williams has pulled in 260 yards. Each has two touchdowns on the season.
Illinois’s running game is just as strong. It’s more productive than Wisconsin’s at this point. Right now, Chase Brown has more rushing yards than any other back in the country with just over 604 chewed up after four games. He’s averaging over 6 yards a carry. The Canadian back might have been under-recruited but he’s certainly becoming a hot commodity to help Bielema’s offensive vision come together. The Badgers will have their hands full trying to stop this unit.
Status of the defense
The Illinois defense is fifth in both yards allowed and points allowed per game. They’re outplaying the Badgers on the defensive side just like many areas on the offensive side of the ball. Are we in the upside down? Because it sure feels like it. Sure, the Illini haven’t played an Ohio State but they’ve looked very solid in the games they have played. They’ve been able to hold teams from being too explosive. Yes, they did lose to Indiana, but they were within one possession of victory.
We always talk about how dominant the Badgers are on defense this year. This year the Illini seem to have a defensive unit that, top to bottom, is just as solid as Wisconsin’s. From their front line to their defensive backs. Every section of this team has individuals in the top 50, in one form or another, when it comes to defensive production. Mertz and Bobby Engram have their work cut out for them.
The Illinois Fighting Illini haven’t been this good in a long time. They’re a team that has a chance to compete against others in the conference this year. They’re heading in the right direction. Bielema has this team trending towards becoming better each week. Unlike Wisconsin, they seem to have grown in every aspect on both sides of the ball. Yes, that includes taking advantage of the transfer portal, but so what? It’s working.
A win for the Illini isn’t unexpected as they’ve been able to steal victories before. Remember 2019? I do. A 23-24 loss in Champagne. Yeeesshhhh. I wish I could erase that day from my mind. If the Illini win this year, it won’t be because of luck. It will be because of the work that this team, players and coaches, have put into getting better over the offseason.