After being steamrolled in their conference opener, the Wisconsin Badgers will be looking to avoid an early hole in the Big Ten West when former head coach Bret Bielema returns to Madison, Wis., with Illinois on Saturday.
Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) is coming off a 52-21 loss at third-ranked Ohio State last Saturday. Illinois (3-1, 0-1), which lost its conference opener 23-20 at Indiana back on Sept. 2, will have two extra days to prepare after a 31-0 nonconference rout of Chattanooga on Thursday.
Bielema was 68-24 in seven seasons at Wisconsin before leaving after the 2012 season for Arkansas. Current Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was the Badgers’ offensive coordinator six seasons under Bielema.
“We’ve got three wins, obviously we’d love to have four, but I think we’ve learned a lot about our team in these first four games,” Bielema said. “Now, we will take a nice nine-day preparation into the Wisconsin game.”
Wisconsin, which had routed New Mexico State 66-7 on Sept. 17, was dominated in all phases by Ohio State, falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter. The Badgers’ defense was shredded for 539 yards — 258 on the ground and 281 through the air.
Braelon Allen was the lone bright spot for Wisconsin, rushing for 165 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Graham Mertz completed 11 of 20 passes for 94 yards, but threw a costly pick on his first pass attempt that set up a short 16-yard drive that put the Badgers down 14-0 with nine minutes left in the first quarter.
The Badgers passing game suffered a major loss against Ohio State when tight end Clay Cundiff was carted off with a left leg injury and is out indefinitely.
Illinois outgained Chattanooga 502-142, piling up 338 yards through the air. Tommy DeVito completed 24 of 32 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns.
Chase Brown ran for 108 yards, bringing his national-leading rushing total to 604 yards. Brown is the first Illini running back to top 100 yards or more in five straight games.
“I think they’ve kind of settled in on their identity,” Chryst said of the Illini. “I think the back is really good and talented, runs hard and breaks a lot of tackles. And, then I think they do a good job of complementing it. I think they’ve got some explosive playmakers outside.”
Wisconsin has won nine of the last 12 against Illinois, with the only loss a 24-23 road upset on a last-second field goal in 2019 when the Badgers were ranked No. 6.
–Field Level Media