2011 Wisconsin Badgerrs Football
Wisconsin Badgers @ Illinois Fighting Illini Football Recap
Wisconsin 28, Illinois 17
The past four weeks for the Illinois football team have been one unending nightmare, one parade of recurring headaches, baffling mistakes, squandered opportunities, and untimely failures. All those ugly images were merely multiplied and magnified on a Saturday that went oh-so-wrong… and turned out oh-so-right for the team that’s now in charge of the Big Ten Leaders Division.
The Wisconsin Badgers kept their Big Ten championship hopes alive on Saturday with a comeback victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign. Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) can clinch the Leaders title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game if it wins against Penn State next week. Despite a pancake-flat start to this contest and another largely indifferent effort on the road, Wisconsin managed to keep its division title hopes intact because Illinois offered some early Christmas gifts to the Badgers. Illinois (6-5, 2-5) has now lost five straight, and it’s little wonder after seeing the football follies foisted upon a hostage audience by coach Ron Zook’s crew, which is crumbling after starting the season 6-0.
Badgers running back Montee Ball scored three touchdowns, giving him 30 on the season. Ball, who continues to add to his single-season Big Ten touchdown record, is the fifth player in FBS history to score 30 touchdowns in a season. Ball rushed for 224 yards – 164 in the second half – and scored all three of the Badgers’ second-half touchdowns.
Turnovers plagued Illinois. The Illini came out like gangbusters, overwhelming the Badgers with vastly superior and more energetic play on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin trailed 14-0 in the second quarter, and 17-7 at halftime, all because it was stuck in quicksand against Illinois’s quickness and intensity. Freshman running back Donovonn Young scored two touchdowns for Illinois. Young finished with 43 yards on only eight carries before leaving the game with an injury in the second half.
Yet, just when everything was falling into place for the Orange Crush against struggling Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson – who once again played poorly in a meaningful road game – the Sons of Champaign gave their guests a lifeline. The Illini handed the Badgers a gift late in the second quarter. Leading 14-0, Illinois punter Justin Duvernois fumbled a snap, giving Wisconsin the ball at the Illinois two-yard line. Ball’s first touchdown cut the Illini lead in half.
Illinois then turned the ball over four times on its five second-half possessions, including the first possession of the second half with a 17-7 lead. Illini receivers committed backbreaking mistakes, fumbling after converting third downs and losing one-on-one battles in the open field to enable beaten Wisconsin cornerbacks to steal turnovers. Those are the plays that the Illini have failed to make over the past month, and their inability to right the ship cost them on a day when they carried the play for most of the proceedings.
Illinois alternated quarterbacks, using usual starter Nathan Scheelhaase as well as freshman Riley O’Toole, who threw two interceptions. Scheelhaase completed 15 of 19 pass attempts for 99 yards, and was picked off once. O’Toole had a touchdown pass called back on an offensive pass interference penalty.