Wisconsin came into Saturday’s matchup against Illinois and played it by the book as the offense started slow and the defense forced turnovers on their way to a 24-10 win.
For the sixth straight game, tying a school record, quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw an interception. Looking for tight end Troy Fumagalli who was wide open between two defenders, Hornibrook underthrew the ball right to the hands of an Illinois defender.
Just as the weeks before, Hornibrook also threw the interception in opponent territory.
On the ensuing drive by Illinois, linebacker Chris Orr got his hand on the quarterback forcing a fumble that would be recovered by linebacker Tyler Johnson. Once again the defense bailed out the offense.
Chris Orr impacted the game seemingly every drive on his way to eight total tackles, 1.0 sacks and 2.0 tackles for loss.
Wisconsin had their first scoring drive sparked by an illegal substitution on Illinois that came on what would have been fourth and four. The penalty gave Wisconsin a fresh set of downs that they used to move the ball over 90 yards on a drive lasting about six minutes.
They finished the drive with Paul Chryst opting to go for it on fourth and one, handing the ball off to Alec Ingold for the touchdown.
Playing it by the book, Wisconsin’s offense would turn things around after the turnover. Running backs Jonathan Taylor and Garrett Groshek broke open the run game. Taylor would leave the game midway through the second quarter with a leg injury leaving Groshek to carry the brunt of the workload.
Hornibrook would also find his accuracy hitting receiver Kendric Pryor for a couple of 20-yard passes. Once again, the quarterback’s resilience would prove to be his best quality. Hornibrook would finish going 11-for-20 on his way to 135 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Despite being down a player in the defensive backfield, with strong safety D’Cota Dixon a late scratch for the game, cornerbacks Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal would step up.
On the first drive of the game for Illinois offense, Tindal would pick off quarterback Jeff George Jr. The play would prompt Illinois coach Lovie Smith to switch up his quarterbacks, but the move would not change anything as the defense continued to make plays.
With Illinois getting their offense together and driving their way into the red zone, Nelson would come up with a big pass breakup in the end zone. The play would force Illinois to settle for a field goal halfway through the second quarter.
Nelson, who has proven to be a solid pass defender, had a huge day. He would end the day with four pass breakups and one quarterback hit.
To end the first half, Wisconsin’s offense would get themselves into field goal range to give Rafael Gaglianone a chance to hit a career-long 53-yard field goal. He would make good on the opportunity and make it a score of 17-3 at halftime.
In the second half, life without Jonathan Taylor leading the backfield would rear its ugly head.
With an offense without its number one running back, number one fullback and two of their top four wide receivers, the offense got absolutely nothing going. In the third quarter, Wisconsin only mustered 45 yards.
The fourth quarter was no better.
Senior safety Joe Ferguson, filling in for the injured Dixon, would get an interception late in the fourth quarter setting up the only scoring drive of Wisconsin’s second half.
On third and short on the goal line, Hornibrook would roll right and turn back to his left hitting lineman Michael Deiter who would run it in for the score.
Besides the excitement of a lineman scoring a touchdown, the second half exposed the Wisconsin offense as being lackluster against a lackluster opponent.
Paul Chryst and company will try and turn the tide against Indiana next weekend.