Wisconsin wide receiver Alex Erickson (86) celebrates a first down catch in the first quarter of a game against Miami (Ohio) at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. M.P. KING -- State Journal

Wisconsin 24, Illinois 13: Houston, Erickson, and Caputo Lead Badgers in Resilient Win

When Badgers head coach Paul Chryst came into today’s game already without his top two running backs (Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal), top tight end (Austin Traylor), starting defensive end (Arthur Goldberg) and a hobbled center (Dan Voltz), Chryst didn’t think it would get much worse.

On Saturday against Illinois in a 24-13 victory, after Wisconsin starting quarterback Joel Stave (head injury) was hurt in the first quarter after being sacked hard by Illinois defensive end Carroll Phillips, backup quarterback Bart Houston was the next man up. When Stave’s second best wide receiver Robert Wheelwright (leg) was injured, wide receiver Alex Erickson stepped up. And when Voltz hurt his knee, usual starting left guard Michael Deiter switched over to center and Micah Kapoi came in at left guard.

Houston came in and played extremely well, throwing for 232 yards on 22/33 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. You have to give credit to Houston, who had not played in a key situation in his career. His confidence, along with some improved blocking from the offensive line that could not protect Stave on his few possessions, anchored the Badgers’ offense. The Badgers were 9/16 on third down and dominated time of possession (40 minutes to 20 minutes), which both proved to be pivotal in the victory.

The man who did it all on offense for Wisconsin though was Erickson. He accumulated 178 all-purpose yards (81 rushing, 96 receiving, and one yard on a punt return), 10 receptions, and scoring the touchdown that sealed the victory in the fourth quarter. Big Ten Network’s Matt Millen compared Erickson at one point in the broadcast to Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent, but there was some Julian Edelman to Erickson’s game on Saturday.

Leading the defense, captain Michael Caputo was able to force two key turnovers, with an interception in the fourth quarter and a forced fumble late in the game receovered by linebacker Chris Orr. Caputo may not have had a lot of tackles, but his clutch play to seal the victory against Illinois was one of his highlights of the season.

Dave Aranda’s defense held Illinois to 333 yards and those 13 points, and held the Illini to only two field goals in their two red zone attempts. Despite getting heavy pressure on Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt, the Badgers did not have any sacks.

The statuses of Stave, Wheelwright, and Voltz are unknown. Chryst said after the game that Stave was feeling fine, but Wheelwright and Voltz were seen in crutches.

The Badgers head home to play Rutgers on Halloween next weekend at 11 AM CT.

Image: Erickson 

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