After a suffocating 52-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Week 4, the Wisconsin Badgers will look to bounce back in conference play against a familiar face in Bret Bielema when they face off against the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Fighting Illini have themselves a strong running game spearheaded by Chase Brown, who’s rushed for 604 yards thus far on 6.4 yards per carry.
However, this week’s matchup to watch involves a member of Illinois’s passing attack against a specific Wisconsin defensive back.
WR Pat Bryant vs CB Jay Shaw
After a six-catch, 98-yard freshman year, Illinois receiver Pat Bryant has sprung onto the scene, leading his team with 14 catches for 262 yards on the season, eclipsing top receivers Isaiah Williams and Brian Hightower.
Bryant possesses an intriguing 6’3, 195-pound frame that allows him to high-point catches against smaller cornerbacks, while also being a deep threat downfield.
On the other hand, Jay Shaw, Wisconsin’s top cornerback thus far, stands at just 5’9, making for a size disadvantage in this matchup.
That has been the case all year with opposing receivers and Shaw, but defensive coordinator Jim Leonard has done a good job to avoid explosive plays after Illinois State quarterback Zach Annexstad completed several deep passes over the top in Week 1.
If Illinois is able to move the ball downfield via the passing attack by utilizing Bryant and targeting Shaw, they could possess enough offensive firepower to make Saturday’s game closer than the 24-0 bout witnessed in Champaign last season.
Illinois does have Syracuse transfer Tommy DeVito as their quarterback for the season, who had his best game in Week 4 when the Fighting Illini beat the Chatanooga Mocs 31-0, as the fifth-year senior completed 24/32 of his passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
However, Wisconsin possesses a strong defensive front with Keeanu Benton, Isaiah Mullens, and Nick Herbig, who are all returning starters from last season, which may make it difficult for the former Syracuse quarterback.
Regardless, Pat Bryant vs Jay Shaw should be the matchup to watch in this game, with the 5’9 highly-touted PAC-12 transfer facing another big test as the top cornerback for the Badgers.
If the Badgers can become victorious on Saturday, it would mark their first conference win of the season, placing them at 1-1 in the BIG 10.