The Badgers take the best defense in college football to a showdown in Illinois.
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
Jack Coan and the passing game had one of its most efficient days of the season against Michigan State.
The 180 yards it produced don’t jump off the page, but Coan was 18 of 21 passing and extended drives with completions on third down. Coan’s passing efficiency rating of 164.0 is 13th in Division I. However, expect Jonathan Taylor to get his Heisman Trophy campaign back on track against Illinois’ defense. The Fighting Illini allow 201.8 rushing yards per game, the second-worst mark in the Big Ten ahead of just Rutgers.
Jake Hansen and Oluwole Betiku Jr. lead a struggling Illinois defense. Hansen, a junior inside linebacker, leads the FBS with five fumbles forced and three fumble recoveries. Betiku Jr., a sophomore transfer from Southern Cal, has 7 sacks, which is tied for fourth in FBS — UW tackles Cole Van Lanen (above) and Logan Bruss will have their hands full.
EDGE | UW
WHEN THE FIGHTING ILLINI HAVE THE BALL
Illinois has been dealing with injuries and inconsistent play from its quarterbacks. Brandon Peters, a junior Michigan transfer, missed last week’s game against the Wolverines due to a head injury. He’s questionable for Saturday. Peters was under center for Illinois in its best offensive performances this season, but is also prone to turnovers — he’s got four interceptions and two lost fumbles in five games.
If Peters doesn’t play, redshirt freshman Matt Robinson (above) is likely to start as he did against Michigan. He helped the Illini put a scare into the Wolverines, as they cut the deficit to 28-25 early in the fourth quarter.
Illinois’ biggest weakness offensively — staying on the field — is the UW defense’s greatest strength. The Badgers continue to lead the nation in third-down defense (15.7% allowed), while the Illini convert just 36.5% of their third-down tries. UW senior outside linebacker Zack Baun (6.0 sacks) should play a big role, as Illinois allows 3.5 sacks per game.
EDGE | UW
UW punt returner Jack Dunn (above) was questionable to start the week due to a head injury sustained against the Spartans. Danny Davis filled that role last week, and could again against Illinois.
Kickoff specialist Zach Hintze has the third-most touchbacks in FBS, and placekicker Collin Larsh is 34 of 35 on PATs this season.
Dre Brown averages 27.6 yards per kick return for Illinois, but Hintze should be able to neutralize him. Illinois’ James McCourt is 5 of 7 on field goals and 23 of 23 on PATs.
EDGE | PUSH
Lovie Smith hasn’t brought the success that Illinois hoped when it hired the longtime NFL coach, but he has gotten the defense turnover-minded.His seat is getting hotter, though, and an embarrassing Homecoming loss to the Badgers wouldn’t help.
UW’s Paul Chryst (above) is looking to go 7-0 to start a season for the second time in his tenure.
EDGE | UW
UW players were kick to dismiss the notion of a trap game, or looking past the Illini with a big game against No. 4 Ohio State looming next week. Baun claimed he didn’t even know that the Buckeyes were next on the schedule after Illinois. A return to the road after five home games is unlikely to affect UW — Illinois is a combined 8-16 at home since 2016.
EDGE | UW
STATE JOURNAL'S PICK
UW hasn’t allowed a point yet this month, and a third consecutive shutout is possible given how well the defense has been playing.
Illinois’ smoke and mirrors might be able to create a splash play or two, but they’re not sustainable.
The Badgers should be able to ride Taylor (above) and the run game to cruise to another win and keep its starters fresh for next week’s showdown at Ohio State.
BADGERS 45, FIGHTING ILLINI 10
THE NUMBER (UW)
6.4: Yards per carry for Jonathan Taylor, despite missing nearly 5 quarters of play this season.
THE NUMBER (ILLINOIS)
32:47: Opponents’ average time of possession this season, the worst in the Big Ten and 115th of 130 teams in the FBS.
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Scoring: The Badgers’ average of 42.5 points per game is their highest through the first six games of the season since 2011 (50.2)
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
16.1: Yards per catch for Illinois’ leading receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe had five catches for 102 yards against Michigan last week, and has five receiving TDs this year.
Video: Paul Chryst talks about the Badgers big win over the Spartans
Prepare for kick off of the University of Wisconsin's football season on Friday night against the South Florida Bulls with the Wisconsin State…