Illinois (2-3) at Wisconsin (3-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 6, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321) -- Madison, Wisconsin. Television: ABC. Home Record: Illinois 2-2, Wisconsin 3-0. Away Record: Illinois 0-1, Wisconsin 0-2. Neutral Record: Illinois 0-0, Wisconsin 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois 0-1, Wisconsin 0-1. Series Record: Illinois leads, 36-35-7.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini pay a visit to Camp Randall Stadium to resume their Big Ten Conference schedule against the Badgers of Wisconsin.
Illinois opened its league slate this past weekend with an ugly 35-7 home loss to Penn State, in which the Fighting Illini fell behind early and never really threatened. After wrapping up their homestand with a 1-2 mark, the Illini will now hit the road for three of their next four contests. The team's only previous road game to date resulted in a lopsided loss at Arizona State in Week 2.
Wisconsin is 0-2 on the road but is unbeaten in three home games so far this season. The Badgers are in the midst of a key stretch that will see them play in Madison five times in a span of seven games. The Badgers are looking to get back on track after having their modest two-game winning streak snapped in last week's 30-27 setback at Nebraska.
Illinois holds a slim 36-35-7 edge in the head-to-head series, but Wisconsin has won six of the last seven meetings.
Save for a 44-0 win over FCS school Charleston Southern on Sept. 15, the Illini offense has been largely inefficient. They enter this weekend's tilt ranked 96th nationally in total offense (349.8 ypg) and tied for 97th in scoring (22.6 ppg). Nathan Scheelhaase finished with 270 yards passing but was intercepted twice against PSU, as Illinois lost for the 16th time in the last 20 meetings in that series. Ryan Lankford finished with seven catches for a game-high 104 yards in the loss, but he was one of the few bright spots in the loss. The Illinois offense turned the ball over three times in all and was shutout for the game's first 34 minutes. Head coach Tim Beckman spent the week leading up to the game talking about how Illinois wants to make the Big Ten title game. Understandably, his tone has not been quite as optimistic this week.
Illinois forced a three-and-out on the game's opening possession, but things quickly spiraled out of control soon after. Tommy Davis lost a fumble on the ensuing punt return at the Illini 26-yard line. The defense held PSU to a field-goal attempt, but a running into the kicker penalty kept the drive alive. Two plays later, the Nittany Lions were in the end zone for the first of their five TDs. Illinois left a few too many open running lanes for Penn State's Zach Zwinak, who notched his first career 100-yard rushing game and scored twice. With Heisman candidate Montee Ball on the docket this week, the Illini will need to shore up their run defense in a hurry.
Wisconsin's offense has been awfully slow to get going through five games. The Badgers enter this tilt tied with Illinois in scoring offense (22.6 ppg) and are ranked 109th in total offense (309.2 ypg). The rushing offense, which led the Big Ten a year ago, currently ranks last in the conference and 96th in the nation despite Ball returning for his senior season. Ball was knocked out of the UTEP game two weeks ago with a head injury and did not return. He was back in action at Nebraska and was given a full workload, rushing 32 times for 90 yards and three TDs. However, he fumbled on 4th-and-1 near midfield late in the fourth quarter with the Badgers trying to move into position to either win or tie. Danny O'Brien replaced an ineffective Joel Stave at quarterback for that drive, and he completed 3-of-4 passes for 25 yards.
Wisconsin surrendered only 10 first-half points against nationally-ranked Nebraska, but the defense began to tire in the second half as the Cornhuskers scored on four straight drives to erase a 17-point deficit. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez gashed the Badgers for 181 yards and two TDs through the air, and he also rushed for a game-high 107 yards and another score. The Badgers were able to hang around thanks in part to their red-zone defense, as Nebraska had to settle for field goals on three of its five trips inside the 20. Mike Taylor was a one-man wrecking crew, as he amassed a game- high 15 tackles in the loss. Taylor ranks second in the Big Ten and is among the national leaders with an average of 11.0 stops per game.
In addition to their turnovers, the Illini shot themselves in the foot with eight penalties against Penn State. They can ill-afford a repeat of that type of performance on the road against a Wisconsin squad that will be hungry for a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 31, Illinois 10
10/03 10:44:04 ET