After a dominant 38-13 homecoming win over Maryland last Saturday, Wisconsin rolls into Champagne, Illinois hoping to spoil Illini homecoming celebrations. No. 5 Wisconsin are heavily favored to win Saturday’s contest, with ESPN giving them a roughly 97 percent chance of victory.
While the probability of victory is high, this is Big Ten season and anything is possible. That being said, here are offensive and defensive players to watch ahead of Saturday’s game.
Offense: Quintez Cephus
Cephus has undoubtedly been a bright spot thus far for the Wisconsin pass attack. He leads the team in receiving yards at 446 as well as touchdowns at 5. He also averages a hefty 17.8 yards per reception, proving his threat to haul in the deep ball.
At 6’1″, Cephus has the inherent ability to get up and make an athletic play on the ball, something quarterback Alex Hornibrook is lucky to have at his disposal. Cephus has also demonstrated a high football IQ, breaking down defensive schemes and exploiting holes frequently so Hornibrook isn’t forced to throw into heavy coverage.
These two key characteristics will be pivotal against a 41st ranked Illinois pass defense, one that yields roughly 200 passing yards per game on average. If Cephus can get into a groove like he did versus Purdue, it will be a long afternoon for Illinois.
Defense: Garrett Dooley
Dooley was considered an incredibly disruptive force at the beginning of the year, but now that the linebacker leads the Big Ten in sacks, he’s a force that offenses have to prepare for alone.
What’s more, the Illinois front seven has allowed an astronomically high 18 sacks on the year, ranking 92nd among FBS teams.
If Dooley can be his normally destructive and productive self, it will prove difficult for the Illinois pass attack to build momentum, let alone get off a clean play.
Offense: Ricky Smalling
Illinois is in the tough position of starting a total of 14 true freshman this season, so they lack veteran leadership. However, young talent is not always synonymous with inexperience, and youth can give an offense a true boost.
True freshman wide receiver Smalling is on the rise, an has hauled in 182 yards and two touchdowns over Illinois’ last two games. Per ESPN, head coach Lovie Smith had redeeming words for the freshman receiver.
“What he’s shown is that he can make plays,” Smith said. “We are going to have those one-on-one matchups on the outside, and Ricky has made those plays.”
Wisconsin must keep an eye on perhaps Illinois’ most potent offensive weapon if they’d like to keep the offense at bay.
Defense: Bobby Roundtree
Another freshman, defensive lineman Bobby Roundtree leads the Fighting Illini in sacks on the season with 3. Additionally, Roundtree has played a role in 29 total tackles, 19 of which occurred solo.
For a defense that surrenders an embarrassingly high 210 rushing yards per game, it’ll be up to players like Roundtree to try and corral the unstoppable force that is running back Jonathan Taylor.
While it’s unlikely the Illinois defense will completely shut down Taylor and the Badgers, players like Roundtree will be where an upset starts.
Illinois has lost five straight Big Ten games this season, including a loss to an abysmal Rutgers team. Wisconsin, on the other hand, has won seven straight, and should handle Illinois easily, moving to 8-0, and taking that small step closer to a College Football Playoff birth.
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