Upon Further Review: Badgers fall into their own traps in humbling loss to Illinois
In Wisconsin’s first six games, it was all hands on-deck in starting out the year undefeated.
On Saturday at Illinois, the Badgers couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot. The result, a 24-23 loss to Illinois on a game-ending 39-yard field goal by the Illini’s James McCourt, has to be considered one of the worst, if not the worst, loss in the Paul Chryst era at Wisconsin.
The Badgers entered as a 31-point favorite against a team which hadn’t been able to stop the run, especially in Big Ten play. Wisconsin had allowed only 29 points all year and had four shutouts.
But with a big game looming next week at Ohio State, this was the proverbial trap game. And trapped, the Badgers were, especially by their own undoing.
The reasons for the defeat are lengthy, we’ll tackle just a few.
Illinois sold out against the run and held Jonathan Taylor to just 47 yards a carry (and 3.6 yards overall, including sacks and a kneeldown). Wisconsin, though, kept running on first down despite being held to 3.8 yards on 24 attempts (Jack Coan was 6-for-9 passing for 65 yards on first downs).
A bigger puzzler might be when Taylor didn’t get the ball, with Wisconsin running a fullback dive on back-to-back plays from the Illinois 1-yard line. Stuffed both times, Chryst settled for a field goal.
Of course, Taylor doesn’t get left off the hook, either. His fumble at the Illinois 17-yard line with 7:21 to play gave the Illini life, especially after they capitalized with a touchdown drive.
Because Illinois was concentrating on the run, Coan had open receivers all day – but he missed his last attempt, throwing just short to Jake Ferguson on a third-down play (he had been 10-for-11 with eight first downs prior), with Illinois picking it off at their own 47 with 3:21 left.
The defense, which nearly allowed as many points against Illinois than it had all season (albeit 17 came off UW turnovers), couldn’t hold and Illinois drove down, which included a 15-yard run to the 25, for the winning kick (with Chryst inexplicably calling all three timeouts even though UW couldn’t get the ball back).
DOWN GOES NO. 6 WISCONSIN!
The first time the Badgers trail all year comes at the hands of @IlliniFootball.
James McCourt wins it: pic.twitter.com/r4WwNMWe0h
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 19, 2019
Having prevented the big play all season, Wisconsin allowed touchdowns of 48, 43 and 29 yards.
A missed 37-yard field-goal attempt by Collin Larsh didn’t help the cause either (although Illinois also had a missed attempt).
The Badgers came into this game with headlines of dominance. That was all frittered away on Saturday to an apparent inferior opponent. Now we must wonder what exactly is the true Wisconsin team and who will show up next week in Columbus?
Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Inside linebacker Chris Orr continues to have a great season. Orr finished with a team-high nine tackles and recorded three sacks, just the fourth Wisconsin player with that many in a game since 2000, and a forced fumble. His forcing quarterback Brandon Peters into an intentional grounding penalty in the third quarter was, up to that point, the play of the game as Wisconsin recovered a fumble on the next play and eventually punched in a touchdown to make it 20-7. Orr also made a big stop on fourth down in the fourth quarter, giving Wisconsin the ball in Illinois territory. It seemed like it might be a “dagger” kind of play. Alas, it was not meant to be. But it’s hard to fault Orr’s effort.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Safety Reggie Pearson is known for his hard hits. He had two forced fumbles entering Saturday, but had just two passes broken up and .5 tackles for loss. Pearson upped those numbers against Illinois. He had two tackles for loss among his five tackles (additionally, he had stops on runs of one and two yards) and three passes broken up. Since 2000, it marked the 17th time a Badgers player had 3+ PBU in a game (last done by Nick Nelson, who had three such games in 2017).
So, so, so many things to choose from, of course. The Coan interception was of course huge, but the Taylor fumble was the killer that set it all up. Taylor hit a hole in the left side of the line (a rare thing on this day as Wisconsin’s offensive line had its worst game of the year) and while fighting for extra yards dropped the ball at the 17, Illinois recovering. Up at the time 23-14 and in the red zone, the Badgers blew a chance to 1. Go up 16 points with a touchdown; 2. Kick a field goal and force Illinois to score two TDs and not a TD and field goal; 3. Worst case scenario, run more time off the clock. Instead, fueled with momentum, the Illini scored in four plays – with four of those gaining 18 or more yards.
Defense ➡️ Offense
Sack and forced fumble by @Juggs35
Touchdown catch by @donnynavarro24 #Illini pic.twitter.com/9dvqVQViHV
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 19, 2019
Illinois had a 28-game losing streak against ranked conference teams. The last win was in 2007. The team? Then-No. 5 Wisconsin. That’s not a bookend the Badgers would have preferred being.
THEY SAID IT
"We just didn’t do enough, obviously didn’t make enough plays to win this game and they did. You know offensively we were in the red zone and didn’t come away with enough points and defensively they did a good job, they had some good plays against us. At the need, we didn’t play complementary football, you know we had a big 4th down stop but then our last two drives ended in turnovers, it gives them a chance. It’s always hard to win on the road and then you make it that much harder." -- head coach Paul Chryst
“It stings, it always stings when you lose, especially when it’s close, it always hurts. I don’t anybody at this level who’s fine with losing. It definitely hurts when you see that field goal goes through as time expires.” -- running back Jonathan Taylor
"I don't think we played very well. It's kind of a trap game playing in Champaign against a team like Illinois. I feel like we didn't have the fire we had in previous games ... and had a lot of missed opportunities." -- linebacker Zack Baun
"We just flat-out got outplayed. ... Not looking ahead at all. We just got outplayed today." -- linebacker Chris Orr
Perhaps the best post-game interview moment was #Illini LB Jake Hansen walking into the interview room with a cigar, yelling "31 point spread, huh?"
"It's a big F you," he said of the validation of upsetting No. 6 Wisconsin 24-23.
— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) October 19, 2019
Next Saturday’s game wasn’t going to be easy no matter what happened in Illinois. Wisconsin has to go to Columbus and face 7-0 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have scored at least 42 points six times and are allowing just 8.0 points per game.