Saturday, October 19, 2013

Badgers stave off second quarter surge, roll to victory as Gordon crosses 1,000-yard mark

After watching the relatively low-scoring Minnesota-Northwestern game at noon and Michigan's high-scoring monstrosity after that, I was looking for something in between from Wisconsin-Illinois. Given the final score, I suppose it technically was that.

The Illini looked to recover from the drubbing they took in Lincoln two weeks ago. At 3-2, a bowl game was still very much on the Illini's radar, especially with several winnable games remaining.

The bad news for Illinois is that the Badgers absolutely pasted Northwestern last week, spending most of the game without the services of Jared Abbrederis. Illinois would have to play its best game if they were going to prevent Melvin Gordon and James White from carving them up like Ameer Abdullah did in Lincoln.

Tim Beckman's squad stalled on offense after taking a 15-yard penalty. The Badgers forced a punt, then went on to score on their first drive for the first time since the second game of the season against Tennessee Tech.

After James White punched it in from two yards out, Melvin Gordon dashed into the end zone on a score of his own of 26 yards. With an early 14-0 deficit nine minutes in and any pregame esprit de corps in the stadium having evaporated, the Illini had to find answers fast.

On the ensuing drive, Nathan Scheelhaase mishandled an end around pitch from one of his wide receivers. Wisconsin's Ethan Hemer recovered the fumble, giving Gary Andersen's offense a short field. On third & goal, Joel Stave went to play action, hitting tight end Brian Wozniak a yard into the end zone. Very quickly, this game took on the feel of a Bielema era blowout of Indiana.

Once again, Bill Cubit's offense fell behind, this time looking at another 3rd & 13, which Scheelhaase couldn't complete. Through four offensive possession, the Illini had -11 total yards.

The Illini got their first good news of the game, however, finally stopping Wisconsin on third down. On the ensuing Illinois drive, Aaron Bailey took a Wildcat carry for 12 yards, their best play of the game thus far. Scheelhaase picked up another first down with his legs. On the next play, Scheelhaase bought time, rolled to his left and hit a receiver for a 20-yard gain.

For the first time, the Illini were on the move and looking good. Nonetheless, the Badgers took a 21-0 lead into the second quarter.

The long Illini drive ended with just a field goal, but the Illini added to their total with a touchdown score on their next drive, mostly via a 51-yard strike to Steve Hull, who badly beat Wisconsin cornerback Darius Hillary. The Illini cut the lead to 21-10, and were finally finding success, not coincidentally after UW's Chris Borland left the game with a right leg injury.

Wisconsin went back to its bread and butter on the ground, marching 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by a Gordon one yard plunge.

Scheelhaase continued to show improvement, tossing a 39-yarder to Ryan Langford to bring the Illini to the UW 4. On 2nd & goal, Illinois once again brought in Wildcat QB Aaron Bailey. Bailey took a half step forward, stopped, and hit a wide open Matt LaCosse in the back of the end zone.

After digging itself a 21-0 hole, the Illini regrouped admirably. Heading into the half down 28-17, the Illini offense and defense had much more to be positive about in the second quarter. Whether or not the Badgers would continue to struggle on defense without Borland in the second half remained to be seen; however, the Illini were beating UW through the air deep, not exactly Borland's domain.

The Wisconsin secondary was a problem against Arizona State and Ohio State, and it didn't fare so well in the second quarter tonight either.
The Illini looked to build on that second quarter momentum with a stop to start the third.

The Badgers intended to disoblige them. Powered by Gordon and capped by two Stave passes inside the Illini 10, UW found the end zone in nine plays.

Down 18, the Illini were once again on the precipice of oblivion. Aaron Bailey failed to complete a little flip pass while scrambling to his right on 3rd & 1, leading to an Illini punt.

Wisconsin, starting at its own 44, once again drove down the field with ease. On a 1st & 10 from the Illinois 13, Gordon started right, cut back left and sped to the end zone untouched for his third score of the night.

With the carry, Gordon crossed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. At that point in the game, with 5:58 left in the third, Gordon racked up 137 yards on 15 carries (9.1 YPC).

Despite Stave underthrowing a wide open Abbrederis deep earlier in the game and the Badgers going most of the game without Borland, Wisconsin rolled to victory with ease against an Illinois team that isn't good but is far from the doormat it was last season.

Things don't ease up for the Illini, as Michigan State comes to town next weekend. Although the Spartan offense won't challenge Illinois like Wisconsin's did, their defense will be much less permeable than the Borland-less Badgers were in the second quarter tonight.

For the Badgers, the 56-32 win represents one more week put between them and the loss in Columbus. Andersen's squad hits the road again next week, when it'll head to Iowa City to face a Hawkeye squad that gave the Buckeyes a run for their money.

On paper, the Badgers appear poised to run the table. However, the BYU, Indiana and Minnesota games could all be tricky for various reasons. There is also Penn State at home to close the season; Christian Hackenberg with 11 games of experience is probably not something to take lightly.

Unless the Buckeyes get upset twice and the Badgers win out, UW won't be appearing in the conference title game this time around. However, they are easily the second best team in the conference, and, quite honestly, are a lot of fun to watch when they get rolling. I'm interested to see how a hypothetical 10-2 UW squad fares during bowl season, especially if the Badgers draw an SEC opponent.

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