MADISON — From the outside, Wisconsin’s game against Illinois this weekend does not seem like a large challenge, but as defensive players recognize, any team in the Big Ten can and will bring the heat if the defense does not stop them.
The Illinois Fighting Illini are 3-6 and 6th in the Big Ten West. They’re coming off a 31-27 win over Michigan State after losing two straight Big Ten matchups to Michigan and Minnesota. Their record, however, doesn’t define their performance.
“I think they’re a very good ball team. They’ve got a lot of talent. I think they can hurt you if they let them hurt you. They’re much better than their record shows, a lot of good receivers, a lot of good running backs, pretty good quarterback as well. We’ve just got to play consistent defense,” safety D’Cota Dixon said after practice Wednesday.
The foundation of Illinois this year is the recent addition of former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. Smith, who was named head coach on March 7 of this past year, has helped boost the individual performances of players this year.
Badgers head coach Paul Chryst said of Smith, “I’m sure he [Smith] is having a huge impact. I have a ton of respect for Lovie, who he is as a person and who he is as a coach.”
The biggest challenge for the Badgers may be the uncertainty of Illinois’s quarterback, a problem their own team has experienced throughout the season.
“We really don’t know who is going to play quarterback this week, so we’re kind of having to prepare for a couple of different options they have.”
Illinois’s starting quarterback Wes Lunt missed the last four games with a back injury. Backup Chayce Crouch had a season-ending surgery that turned to ball over to third string quarterback Jeff George Jr. In the past three games George has thrown 33 of 78 passes for 391 yards for four touchdowns to one interception.
“Then just the weapons,” Watt said of the rest of the Illinois offense. “Every team has weapons so just trying to shut everything down and first and foremost it starts with the run.”
Kendrick Foster is Illinois leading rusher with 94 carries for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages 6.3 yards a run. Behind him is Reggie Corbin with 57 carries for 421 yards and one touchdown.
For the passing game, Malik Turner leads in receptions with 35 for 523 yards and four touchdowns. He averages 14.9 yards a play. Turner was out the previous week with a concussion. Behind Turner are Zach Grant with 16 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown and Justin Hardee with 13 catches for 136 yards.
Ultimately the Badgers defense has been solid throughout the season. What they strive for now is a perfect game.
“The way I look at it is as long as they don’t score, we don’t lose,” Dixon said. “The best way I think I can even thing about doing that is always doing my job, trying to play my perfect game, trying to play a perfect game. I think we all try to do that, We haven’t done that yet, and that’s one of our goals, play a perfect game.”