If Wisconsin beats Ohio State, would they make the college football playoff? Can the top-ranked defense hold up against Justin Fields and the Ohio State offense? Will Coan be able to step up against the Buckeyes secondary if Jonathan Taylor is kept in check?
Not so fast, as much as the Big Ten world and those outside of the Wisconsin locker room wanted to look forward to the top ten matchup in Columbus against Ohio State, the Fighting Illini would not be walked over.
The series between Wisconsin and Illinois has been anything but close. UW has won the last nine before this meeting, and even more impressive, has won the last four meetings by a combined score of 145-46 and won last year’s meeting 49-20.
With Illinois losing its last four games and Wisconsin recently moving up to No. 6 in the nation, both trends seemed destined to continue but it was a two-point game with five minutes left to play.
For only the second time the season, and the first time since the season opener, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) were on the road against the unranked Fighting Illini (2-4 Overall, 0-3 Big Ten).
With a seemingly secure nine-point lead with a little over seven minutes to play, the Badgers were driving on the familiar legs of Jonathan Taylor. The Heisman candidate was unable to hold on to the ball after a long run giving the Illini the ball back with 7:12 left to make a comeback.
Wisconsin’s defense, which has been dominant all year, was unable to stop Illinois. Illinois quickly rattled off a four-play, 75-yard drive to Brandon Peters and a rushing attack that repeatedly gashed them over the middle.
With 5:53 to go and a two-point lead in hand, the Badgers still had a brilliant opportunity to close the door on the Fighting Illini.
Man, did they do anything but seal the deal on the ensuing drive.
A conversion on third and three to Jake Ferguson brought hope back for the Badgers. Ferguson was looked to again on a corner route which had worked throughout the game but Illinois cornerback Tony Adams made the play of the game with a leaping interception at the Illinois 47-yard line.
The interception quickly made the possibility of an upset reality, and likely.
The underwhelming homecoming crowd of 37,363 woke up and gave one of the biggest roars you’ll ever hear.
The Fighting Illini did not need to move the ball much to get into the range for junior kicker James McCourt who hit from 50 a week ago against Michigan and also hit a career, and school, long of 57 earlier in the season against Eastern Michigan.
Two first downs were all Illinois needed for their kicker. One came on 3rd and 6 on a nine-yard contested catch, and the other one came on a familiar play that killed the Wisconsin defense all afternoon: a run up the middle.
The nine-play, thirty-two-yard drive, set up McCourt for a 39-yard field goal which was easily good.
Shocked Illinois fans jumped onto the field to celebrate with the players as the anthem of Wisconsin football, jump around, rang in the background.
Badger players walked off in complete disarray, unfamiliar with the feeling of a loss so far this season. The Badgers had yet to trail all season coming into the matchup but would find themselves trailing for the first time with no time left to play in hostile territory.
Wisconsin was on the road for the first time since August 30th, which was in the season opener. Whether it was the unfamiliar feeling of being on the road, looking ahead to Ohio State or not being as energized for the matchup, UW came out flat and was outplayed throughout.
UW will not have much time to sulk with a trip to Columbus next on the schedule against undefeated Ohio State.