Wisconsin Football: Grading the Badgers' Win over Illinois
It wasn't pretty, but the Badgers improved to 9-2 with their 28-17 win over Illinois Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Despite 28 points and almost 200 yards on the ground, the offense struggled most of the day.
The defense was soft during the first two quarters, but they buckled down in the second half and kept the Illini off the scoreboard.
Bottom line: The Badgers are one win away from a berth in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Saturday's game against Illinois was by far Russell Wilson's most pedestrian performance as a Badger.
The senior quarterback was 10-of-13 for just 90 yards and one score.
Still, Wilson kept his cool while the offense struggled and led the Badgers to a very important victory.
Running Backs: A
Tailback Montee Ball quietly ran for 224 yards against the Illini on Saturday (if that's possible).
Ball had to grind out a majority of his runs against a tough Illinois defense, and he added three scores to his stat line (two rushing, one receiving) to become just the fifth player in FBS history to score 30 or more touchdowns in a single season.
Again, how is Montee Ball not a serious Heisman contender?
Wide Receivers: B
The Badgers didn't throw it much on Saturday, but when they did, the receivers delivered.
Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst again tried to get Nick Toon involved early against the Illini, and the senior wideout led the team with six catches for 67 yards.
Offensive Line: C
It's hard to be critical of a unit that paved the way for 224 Montee Ball rushing yards, but the Badgers' offensive line was outworked and over-matched too often on Saturday.
Wisconsin failed to convert on a number of 3rd-and-short plays (though, they did capitalize on ensuing fourth downs), and one Illinois sack led to a costly Russell Wilson fumble.
You could tell this unit missed their leader, center Peter Konz.
Defensive Line: B
Wisconsin's front four gave up too much on the ground and only generated one sack, but constant pressure forced Illinois quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole to make a handful of poor throws, including three interceptions.
If the Badgers' D-line can put consistent pressure on Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin next week, Wisconsin should have no trouble stopping the Nittany Lions' offense.
The Chris Borland and Mike Taylor show continued on Saturday afternoon, with the Big Ten's top two tacklers combining for 29 stops and two forced fumbles.
When these two are on, the Badgers' defense is one of the Big Ten's best.
The Badgers' secondary played a bend-don't-break defense on Saturday that kept Illinois off the scoreboard through the air.
Wisconsin's D-backs also created three turnovers, as Aaron Henry, Antonio Fenelus and Shelton Johnson all had picks.
Special Teams: B
For once, Wisconsin won the special teams battle on Saturday after a botched Illinois punt led to a touchdown for the Badgers.
Still, the punting unit was shaky, and you always get the sense that Wisconsin is going to have a kick blocked at any moment.
Wisconsin seemed to be sleepwalking during the first two quarters of play on Saturday, so whatever head coach Bret Bielema said at halftime must've worked.
The Badgers outscored Illinois 21-0 in the second half en route to their ninth victory of the season.
After taking care of business Saturday afternoon on the road against Illinois, the Badgers are just one home win away from a spot in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
It's hard to believe that a team which seemed so down and out just a few weeks ago after back-to-back gut-wrenching losses is now two wins away from a return trip to Pasadena.