Last week, the Wisconsin Badgers traveled to Ann Arbor and were thoroughly destroyed by the Michigan Wolverines. In that game, the Badgers never led and were outscored by 19 points in the second half before losing 38-13. Now, the 23rd-ranked Badgers get to return home where the team will face off against the 3-3 Illinois Fighting Illini. Even though Wisconsin’s playoff hopes are already over, the team still needs to take care of its remaining conference games if the Badgers hope to return to another Big Ten Championship Game. As for Illinois, this season has definitely been an improvement in comparison to recent years, however, the Fighting Illini could use another win to help propel them to their first bowl game since 2014.
Wisconsin is entering this game after suffering a humiliating defeat against the Michigan Wolverines. If Wisconsin had any hope of making a playoff run after losing at home to BYU earlier this season, the Badgers were going to need to win out. Now that that dream is over, the Badgers need to narrow their focus on winning a conference championship and take care of business throughout the rest of the season.
Although Wisconsin’s best offensive player is running back Jonathan Taylor, who already has 950 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season, the team’s success rests on the unsure shoulders of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Inconsistency has plagued Hornibrook in his career and it reared its ugly head last week in Ann Arbor.
As a sports fanatic, I have seen a lot of terrible performances by quarterbacks in my lifetime. However, Hornibrook’s performance last week might have been the worst that I have ever seen. Hornibrook finished the game competing just seven of his 20 pass attempts for a total of 100 yards along with a touchdown and two interceptions. Although the stats do not look as badly as my previous statement suggested, one has to factor in that 75 of Hornibrook’s passing yards came in the final five minutes of the game when the team was down 31 points. Therefore, Hornibrook only had 25 passing yards through the first 55 minutes of the game.
As a whole, Hornibrook’s season has been average as he has thrown for eight touchdowns and four interceptions. In his defense, Michigan does possess an elite defense in college football and Illinois’ defense is nowhere near that level. Hornibrook should be able to bounce back this week in front of the roaring Camp Randall crowd. However, one has to question where his confidence is at entering this game. It is very difficult for a player to simply forget about what has happened in the past. After such an abysmal showing last week, Badger fans can only hope that Hornibrook has moved past it.
On the bright side, Wisconsin’s running game still looked solid against the Wolverines and that should continue for the rest of the season. Star running back Jonathan Taylor managed to run for over 100 yards on just 17 touches while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. The team also managed to score a rushing touchdown via wide receiver Kendric Pryor who took a jet sweep 33 yards to the house in the second quarter. Wisconsin finished the game with 183 rushing yards and over six yards per carry. Expect the Badgers to keep pounding the rock against the Fighting Illini this Saturday.
As for Illinois, things have looked brighter in Lovie Smith’s third season as head coach. After finishing his first two seasons with a combined record of 5-19, people assumed that Illinois would once again finish in the Big Ten basement this season. However, to the surprise of many, Illinois has actually showed signs of progress and have an outside shot of making a bowl game this season. Last week, Illinois was dismantled 46-7 by Purdue as the team’s offense was held to just 250 yards of total offense which pushed the team to a 3-3 record on the season.
Illinois’ offense is led by senior quarterback AJ Bush Jr. whose dual threat ability has helped the team put up some points. Despite missing two games this season, Bush Jr. has over 280 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. The only problem is that he only has thrown for just touchdown on the year. Coach Smith’s offense definitely features a run first attack so Bush Jr. does not get a lot of chances to beat defenses with his arm, but against a quality Badgers defense, Bush Jr. will have to make some big throws if Illinois has any chance of pulling off this upset.
For my prediction, I have to side with Wisconsin. The Badgers are definitely fuming after last week’s unacceptable performance and I think that it will show on Saturday. The team is returning to Camp Randall and the Badgers still need to treat every remaining game as a must-win if the team hopes to return to the conference title game. Furthermore, Illinois just lost to Purdue by 39 points so I expect this game to get ugly in a hurry.
Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Illinois 7