Coming off an absolute gut punch of a loss to Iowa, the Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten) and new starting QB Braedyn Locke head to Champaign, Illinois to play Bret Bielema’s Illinois Fighting Illini (3-4 Overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten).
While this season has been a huge struggle on both sides of the ball for Illinois, they showed some fight last weekend in College Park, emerging with a 27-24 gut-check upset win over the Maryland Terrapins, which has to have them liking their chances vs. Wisconsin this week. (NOTE: For purposes of the Wisconsin/Illinois game, “Winning Big” means coming out on top by 14 or more.)
Wisconsin Wins Big If…
…it’s able to put last Saturday’s Iowa debacle in the rear-view mirror (while also not looking forward a week to Ohio State) and comes in 100% mentally focused to play from the opening kick.
There isn’t going to be a huge margin for error here for the Badgers, even against a last-place Big Ten West team. But, if the team is highly motivated throughout and plays a very clean game (Read: no turnovers), it can win comfortably and get some emphatic revenge for last year’s embarrassing “Paul Chryst as HC kill shot” in Madison. I just don’t expect it.
Likelihood of Wisconsin Winning Big: 15%
Wisconsin Wins a Close One If…
…it plays a relatively clean game and doesn’t force Locke to have to make big plays to win.
While our new QB1 has a lot of ability and is an impressive student of the game, he’ll still be prone to turnovers until his reps increase. He needs to limit those turnovers, let the running game get going, and mix in some passing to keep the Illini D honest.
If this happens and the Badgers defense avoids giving up big plays, Wisconsin has a really solid chance to leave Champaign with a victory, especially given the high quality of their kicking game with Nathanial Vakos.
Likelihood of Wisconsin Winning a Close One: 45%
Illinois Wins Big If...
…its confidence from last week’s win over Maryland helped the team make a jump where they’ve figured out most of the many problems they’ve had this season.
Turnovers, key defensive lapses, and being an overall so-so team in terms of talent have dogged them since game one, but they put it all together last Saturday, and have to be licking their chops at the chance to play a wounded Badger team they manhandled last season.
But, Wisconsin is a prideful team that will hopefully be playing with a chip on its shoulder Saturday, so a comfortable Illini win seems unlikely.
Likelihood of Illinois Winning Big: 10%
Illinois Wins a Close One If…
…they force Wisconsin into making two or three turnovers, while also stifling the Badgers’ running game. Braelon Allen was clearly not chugging at 100% against Iowa, so Illinois will be laser-focused on making sure he never gets going.
This situation might force Wisconsin to give more touches to Jackson Acker, who could be a huge x-factor for the Badgers in this game and going forward, and it will definitely mean Wisconsin will have to pass to move the chains.
Locke is capable of doing this but must limit the errant throws he had against Iowa. This could prove daunting for the young signal caller from Texas playing his first road game.
Likelihood of Illinois Winning a Close One: 30%