Wisconsin defense looks to continue dominance against well-rested Illinois
Who: Wisconsin vs. Illinois
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Illinois
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -6.5
Matchup to watch: Clayton Fejedelem vs. Joel Stave
The Illinois safety might be one of the more underrated players in the conference. He flies to the ball and makes plays stopping the running game in a similar fashion to Wisconsin’s Michael Caputo. The Illini’s leading tackler is also its best defensive back in coverage. Stave will make accuracy mistakes throughout the course of a game. He probably should have more than the five interceptions he has in 2015. That isn’t to say a guy completing 62 percent of his passes is wild, but there will be opportunities for Fejedelem and V’Angelo Bentley to force turnovers.
Thing I’m excited to see: Corey Clement…?
Clement surprised everyone by suiting up last week against Purdue. He didn’t see the field, but it was progress to see him back on the sideline and not in Germany. There’s a chance we could see the Badger tailback in action against Illinois. He could be a true game-time decision, determined by a variety of factors. If his groin isn’t fully healed, then Paul Chryst won’t trot him out there at all. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clement held out if game-time conditions are slippery. But if all systems are a go and the junior is able to get back on the field, don’t expect Clement to get the majority of the carries. We should still see plenty of Dare Ogunbowale with Taiwan Deal out with a high ankle sprain. Just the thought of getting Clement back — and having him avoid a redshirt — would be a welcome sight for Badger fans.
Number to remember: 10.9
The Badger defense is third in the country allowing 10.9 points per game. Dave Aranda’s unit isn’t just good. It’s elite. The linebacking core of Vince Biegel, T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr and Joe Schobert has been the B1G’s best so far, especially against the pass. Opposing B1G quarterbacks are just 35-for-75 against the Badgers. As a result, they’ve allowed the second fewest red zone opportunities in the country. Wes Lunt and the Illini can’t squander the limit opportunities they might get deep in Wisconsin territory. The Illini offense isn’t quite as versatile without Josh Ferguson in the lineup. A couple of big plays downfield early from Geronimo Allison would go a long way toward opening up some running lanes for Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Prediction: Wisconsin 21, Illinois 17
There are no such things as pretty wins in the B1G. Wisconsin knows that all too well. I don’t think anybody in the West blows out Illinois this year. The Illini defense has been better than advertised, too. It ranks fourth in the country in third-down stops. The Badgers will struggle to sustain drives against Illinois, which isn’t the best news for an offense that struggles to get big plays. I actually think Illinois leads this one in the fourth quarter but a late Stave-led touchdown drive lifts Wisconsin to 3-1 in the B1G West.