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Grading the Badgers: Defense nearly aces test in win over Illinois, offense lifts grade
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BADGERS REPORT CARD | JIM POLZIN

Grading the Badgers: Defense nearly aces test in win over Illinois, offense lifts grade

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JIM POLZIN

jpolzin@madison.com

Jim Polzin grades the Wisconsin Badgers’ performance Saturday in their 24-0 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.

Offense

B It was nothing fancy, just smashmouth football at its finest. Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen both ran hard while combining for 176 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The offensive line dominated a Big Ten opponent for the first time this season. Graham Mertz returned from a rib injury and was just OK, though he improved in the second half. Still, this type of passing performance won’t cut it against quality competition and Illinois certainly doesn’t fit that description.

The University of Wisconsin quarterback speaks to the media Saturday after the Badgers defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 24-0 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Il.

Defense

A The Badgers were aggressive from start to finish, with Keeanu Benton setting the tone on the first snap of the game by putting pressure on Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters. UW pitched a shutout and allowed 93 total yards, 42 of which came on one drive against the backups in the fourth quarter. It’s a toss-up on what’s more impressive: the Badgers allowing only 26 yards rushing or forcing the Illini into 23 incompletions in 34 attempts. Two quibbles: The Badgers didn’t force a turnover and got called for four pass interference penalties.

Special teams

B- Collin Larsh, subbing for the injured Jack Van Dyke, forced touchbacks on four of his five kickoffs. Andy Vujnovich’s only punt was a 56-yarder into the wind. Returner Dean Engram let a punt bounce and it resulted in a loss of 15 yards of field position for the Badgers.

Coaching

B+Paul Chryst deserves credit for keeping his team motivated on the big picture after a 1-3 start. Getting Allen more involved in the game plan also is a smart move that should pay dividends the rest of this season and in the future. Jim Leonhard’s defense finally got to play with a lead and never let Illinois get comfortable.

Overall

B+UW absolutely had to win this game and it never really was in doubt. That the final score didn’t reflect how lopsided this game was in every major stat is another sign the Badgers’ roster lacks big-time playmakers. But they had more than enough talent to coast past the Illini.

BY THE NUMBERS

38

UW shut out Illinois on Saturday for the sixth time in their 88 meetings. The previous shutout before Saturday came 38 games prior, a 26-0 victory in 1977.

Illinois completed less than 50% of its passes for the sixth consecutive game against UW. The Illini last completed more than 50% of their passes in 2015. The Illini completion percentage during the six-game streak is 34.6%.

161.8

Illinois entered the game averaging 187.8 yards rushing per game, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. The UW defense limited the Illini to 26 yards, which was 161.8 yards below their average. It had been 15 games since Illinois was held to less than 100 yards rushing. Northwestern did it to Illinois during the 2019 season.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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