Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Bart Houston hands off the football to running back Alec Ingold.
Wisconsin entered Champaign, Ill., already missing several key players and then subsequently saw even more unable to play during the game.
Key among those Wisconsin players who were injured during the game was quarterback Joel Stave, who missed one play after being sacked and then later had to leave the game.
But with backup quarterback Bart Houston leading the way, the Badgers didn’t lose a step, controlling the ball for much of the game in beating the Illini 24-13.
The Badgers were buoyed by the play of Alex Erickson — who led Wisconsin in both rushing and receiving — plus some timely defensive stops. All of which seems to be par for the course in Big Ten season for Wisconsin, which is doing just enough to win games.
— Maybe now we know one reason Houston is the backup quarterback rather than D.J. Gillins. Head coach Paul Chryst noted they ran the same game plan with Houston as they would have with Stave. Erickson also noted that Houston prepares each week as if he’s going to play. This week, it paid off.
— Rob Wheelwright keeps indicating he’ll be a primary target in 2016. He had three catches, including a touchdown after a nice grab and spin move into the end zone. However, he also had a drop — his sixth of the season — when wide open in the end zone. On the next play, Houston threw an interception.
— Wisconsin’s special teams continues to thrive. The Badgers still have not allowed a kick return longer than 22 yards. Punter Drew Meyer might have had his best game, averaging 46.8 yards per boot while dropping three inside the 20-yard line.
— Alec Ingold once again proved to be solid when short yardage was needed. He ran 13 times for only 26 yards, but had a 2-yard touchdown. He should never be the main back, but he is a valuable asset.
— Also out for Wisconsin were running backs Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal and defensive end/nose guard Arthur Goldberg. Besides Stave, center Dan Voltz and Wheelwright had to leave the game, both with leg injuries. Voltz was seen having to use a crutch.
— The last time Houston threw two touchdowns in a game he was in high school midway through his senior year, Nov. 4, 2011.
— The Badgers have gone five straight games without scoring 30 or more points. That’s Wisconsin’s longest streak since 2008, when UW had a seven-game streak (and was 2-5 during that span).
— Erickson’s 10 receptions are tied for the 10th-most in a game in Wisconsin history. Erickson’s 56-yard run was the longest play from scrimmage for the Badgers this season and only the second over 40 yards (the other was a reception for 45 yards from Stave to Erickson).
— Tanner McEvoy had his first reception since the second game of the season against Miami (Ohio). In fact, all three of his previous catches occurred in that game.
— Saturday’s win was Wisconsin’s first over a team with a winning record.
Besides Wisconsin technically staying alive in the Big Ten West hunt, the Badgers showed they can win on the road despite adversity. On offense, Wisconsin didn’t have two of its top three running backs and its starting tight end then proceeded to lose its quarterback, center and No. 2 wide receiver — and still won by 11. Bart Houston also showed maybe he’ll have a leg up on the 2015 starting QB job.
Bart Houston came into the game seeing a leaky offensive line and no running game and stood in the pocket confidently (despite being sacked himself on his first play from scrimmage filling in for Stave the first time) and made a lot of big throws, completing 22 of 33 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It wasn’t a perfect game — as the INTs show — but he had to come in cold off the bench and lead a Wisconsin offense which was going nowhere. UW could easily have folded once Houston came in, but he not only kept the Badgers in it, but also led them to victory.
Yes, you could easily say Alex Erickson was player of the game and it would be hard to argue. He had 10 catches for 96 yards and four rushes for 81 yards. He was the Wisconsin offense, at least for much of the second half.
On its first play from scrimmage after Illinois took a 13-10 lead, Wisconsin ran the ol’ jet sweep to Erickson, who ran 56 yards, from the Badgers 14 to the Illinois 30, quickly getting UW in scoring position. Seven plays later, Alec Ingold ran in for the go-ahead — and as it turned out game-winning — score.
61.5 — the conversion rate on third downs for Wisconsin after Houston took over for Stave full-time (or, 8 of 13). Overall in the game, the Badgers were 9 of 16 on third downs (56.2 percent).
"He gave us some juice with some of the runs that he had, he had a couple of really good catches . . . he’s a really good football player." — Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst on Alex Erickson
"Bart’s a gunslinger, he loves to throw the pigskin around. When he got out there, we knew he was going to fire it." — Erickson on Wisconsin QB Bart Houston
"Yeah, I’ve been waiting years — three or four or something like that — so yeah, it’s fun to play the game again." — Houston
The Badgers (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) return home to face Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) at 11 a.m. The Scarlet Knights have had a strange season, with their head coach suspended, top player hurt and an amazing fourth-quarter comeback at Indiana. Wisconsin doesn’t want to overlook Rutgers, that’s for sure, as wide receiver Leonte Caroo is back and could be a handful.