A 21-0 first-quarter surge and a second half full of defensive adjustments without senior linebacker Chris Borland on the field allowed the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) to survive its third primetime game on the road this season, defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini (3-3, 0-2) 56-32.
The Badgers' fifth-ranked rushing offense ran wild on an inexperienced and overmatched Illinois defense, rushing for 289 total yards. Sophomore Melvin Gordon and senior James White combined for 240 yards on the ground and six total touchdowns, as the 25th-ranked team in the nation averaged 6.3 yards per carry against Illinois' 97th ranked rushing defense.
Sophomore quarterback Joel Stave, who was 16-of-21 for 189 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and the Wisconsin offense carried the team Saturday evening. The Badgers scored on their first possession of the game, taking the ball 53 yards in five plays as White scored from two yards out to go up 7-0. Two other touchdowns later that quarter from a 26-yard Gordon run and a 2-yard Brian Wozniak reception had the Badgers looking for an early knocking out punch in the first 15 minutes of the game up 21-0.
Borland and the defense confused and dominated the Illinois offense early, holding senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and company to -11 yards through Illinois' first four drives, including senior defensive end Ethan Hemer recovering a fumble on a botched reverse which lead to the Wozniak score.
After Borland exited with a right leg injury, the Illini offense jumped on what appeared to be a disorganized and hampered defense, scoring on its last 3 possessions of the first half while accumulating 189 yards mostly through the air to cut the lead at halftime to 28-17.
Wisconsin regrouped in the second half, with the offense driving 75 yards in nine plays on its first drive culminating in a White touchdown reception from three yards out to go up 35-17. The offense scored 28 total points in the second half on way to gaining 478 total yards on the evening.
The defense, with junior linebacker Marcus Trotter in for Borland, only gave up two touchdowns in the final two quarters. Trotter finished the game with a team-high 9 tackles as he helped keep Illinois from scoring in an impressive goal line stand against quarterback Aaron Bailey in the third quarter.
Scheelhaase finished the game 20-of-27 for 249 yards, with big throws of 51 and 39 yards against the Wisconsin secondary. Although the Illini ended with 391 yards of offense against the mostly Borland-less defense, the Badgers only gave up 72 yards rushing on the evening on 2.5 yards per carry while forcing two turnovers.
Wisconsin has its second bye week of the season this upcoming week until it goes on the road again to face a tough challenge against the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 2nd.