The Wisconsin Badgers bounced back from a loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes with a come-from-behind 25-21 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, where quarterback Braedyn Locke led a game-winning drive to notch a win in his first career start.
Wisconsin struggled for the majority of the game, but put together 18 points in the fourth quarter, while leaving Illinois scoreless in the last period en route to the victory.
Here are three quick takeaways from the Badgers 25-21 victory over Illinois.
How can we not talk about Braedyn Locke after that game-winning drive?
The redshirt freshman quarterback showed true poise in his first career start, executing the gameplan at the end of the game and leading an impressive final drive to deliver the Badgers the victory in the final minutes.
But, overall, I felt that Locke had a good first game, showcasing solid accuracy, especially in third-down situations where the pressure was highest, completing 7/12 passes for 77 yards.
The numbers (21/41 passing and two touchdowns) may not indicate how Locke’s performance ultimately went, but it was a good start against a defense that consistently got pressure on the quarterback.
There were several penalties that backed the Badgers up, as well as a number of key drops from pass-catchers, but Locke’s poise remained unwavering in the performance.
Locke has begun to develop a strong rapport with receiver Will Pauling, who had another monster game with seven catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, and it’s clear that was his best connection of the day.
There definitely are improvements to be had; Locke’s deep ball misfired short on a few occasions, specifically to the field side, displaying his average arm strength.
That’s why the rapport with deep-threat Bryson Green remains a work in progress, as the duo completed just two of seven passes on the day.
But, it was a statement performance from Locke in a come-from-behind victory, adding even more intrigue to the end of the season in evaluating the redshirt freshman as a starting option in the Big Ten.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo has taken his fair share of criticism through the first few weeks of the season, as the Badgers offense has looked stagnant at times in the transition to the “Air Raid” scheme.
However, I thought this game was a really well-called day for Longo, who clearly was looking to work towards his quarterback’s strengths in the gameplan.
Given the amount of man-to-man coverage that was present, Longo did a good job dialing up short/intermediate concepts like crossers and slants to free open receivers over the middle of the field, setting up easier throws for Locke in crucial situations.
Additionally, just like in last week’s outing, the offensive coordinator showcased confidence in his young quarterback, allowing him to work through his mistakes as the day went along.
The scoring really only began to kick in during the fourth quarter, but the Badgers were consistently set back by penalties or the turnover, rather than issues with playcalling.
There were slight issues with Longo’s choices, such as the inside zone run on 2nd & Goal on the final drive, but the offensive coordinator consistently put his young quarterback in positions to be successful and deserves credit for making that happen.
Once again, penalties were a killer for the Badgers in this one, as Wisconsin had six penalties (five accepted) in the first quarter alone before settling down a little more as the game continued.
There were two false starts on the opening drive, including one on a 3rd & 1 by left tackle Jack Nelson, ultimately backing the Badgers up on a possession where they punted.
In addition, Nelson committed a holding penalty on that first drive as well.
On special teams, Wisconsin committed another holding penalty, backing them up to the 10-yard line to start one of their drives.
Defensively, there were two offsides penalties on the first drive of the second half, providing Illinois extra opportunities, although Wisconsin was able to weather the storm and force a punt.
The Badgers need to start faster and part of it comes down to the penalties they incurred early on.
Against an opponent like Ohio State, penalties cannot occur, and the Badgers need to fix this area up fast.