Rapid Reaction: Illinois provides homecoming stunner, downs No. 6 Wisconsin with last-second FG
Final Score: Wisconsin 23, Illinois 24
Brief Recap: Unbelievable! Needless to say, this has not been a kind season for Illinois. After falling to 1-4 with a loss to Michigan, the Illini entered Saturday’s homecoming as 30-point underdogs to the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers. But thanks to a surprising defensive effort, the Illini kept things close all game long. After trailing 23-14 with about nine minutes left in the game, Lovie Smith and company finished with a flurry. In the end, James McCourt lined up for and drilled a 39-yard field goal as time expired for the win.
Key Moment: Illinois cut Wisconsin’s lead to 23-21 with just under six minutes left to go in the game. However, with QB Jack Coan playing well and RB Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, it appeared the Badgers were well-positioned to run out the clock. Once again, the Illini defense rose to the occasion. Facing a third-and-five from his own 45-yard line, Coan threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Tony Adams. The throw was a risky one and proved costly as it set Illinois up in good position for the game-winning kick.
Key Stat: Coan’s interception proved to be the final straw as Wisconsin turned the ball over three times in the game. It gave the Illini a +2 margin in turnover differential, and both of those turnovers came late in the fourth. It started with a surprising fumble by Jonathan Taylor as the Badgers were already deep inside Illini territory. Illinois cashed that in for a touchdown before Coan’s fateful interception. The turnovers allowed Illinois to overcome losing the time of possession battle that was lopsided in favor of the Badgers, 40:49 to just 19:11 for Illinois.
Key Player: This may be a copout, but the Player of the Game has to be the Illini defense. What is truly surprising is that no one on offense had a truly remarkable game for Illinois. Reggie Corbin was held under 100 yards while Brandon Peters completed just 9-of-21 passes. Yes, that duo provided the crucial touchdowns, but the story of the day is the Illinois defense for holding Wisconsin under 30 points and forcing the big turnovers.
What it Means for Wisconsin: For the Badgers, they still control their own destiny in the B1G West, but there’s no denying the loss is an ugly one. Wisconsin can still potentially play its way into a College Football Playoff spot. However, two things must be said. First of all, the CFP Committee does not react kindly to these types of ugly losses. And secondly, next week’s game against Ohio State takes on new importance. A loss likely eliminates Wisconsin from the Playoff and muddies the B1G West picture as long as Minnesota remains unbeaten.
What it Means for Illinois: For the Illini, this will undoubtedly go down as the signature win and moment of the 2019 season. After missing out on an upset in a feverish comeback against Michigan, Illinois put enough plays together to finish the deed against Wisconsin. It is one of the biggest wins for the program in recent history and keeps Smith at the helm a little while longer.