MADISON, Wis. – A happy Homecoming, indeed, to Badger fans.
Backed by a supercharged crowd at Camp Randall Saturday afternoon of the university’s Homecoming weekend, No. 7 Wisconsin topped Illinois, 48-3, bringing its record to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in conference.
Five things we learned
- The Badgers do in fact have a run game: OK, so it hasn’t been completely absent this season, but the running game certainly hasn’t been what Badgers fans are used to. That changed against Illinois. Corey Clement, who has now rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Badgers’ last five games, finished with 128 yards on 25 carries. And you thought it got loud in Camp Randall during Jump Around. The stadium was rocking when Clement broke free for all three touchdowns. Great for the Badgers, scary for those with seats up high. Dare Ogunbowale also chimed in with 103 yards and Bradrick Shaw contributed 80.
- Maybe there’s something to this two-quarterback thing: Just maybe, though. Switching between Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston appeared slightly less disruptive against Illinois than it had in previous games. The substitutions also looked intentional rather than necessary. Coach Paul Chryst put each in to do what he’s good at – Houston, short rocket throws in tight spaces; Hornibrook, lofty tosses with finesse—rather than pulling them out for mistakes made, which were minimal anyway.
- Red-zone wall not as thick as Wisconsin thought: On the season, Wisconsin has scored on about 75 percent of its trips to the red zone, but has only notched touchdowns half the time. Against Illinois, the Badgers found a way in on four of their five first-half attempts—in a variety of ways, too—and finished with six touchdowns overall.
- Badgers defense doesn’t always meet in the middle: In game during which the Badgers dominated through all phases, this may just be nitpicky. Wisconsin’s secondary had just about all of Jeff George Jr.’s deep throws toward the sideline under lock and key, and up front, the linebackers did what they do best: smother any hope of a run game. However, the Illini appeared to find a soft spot over the top in the middle, which they targeted to get into field-goal range and convert in the first half.
- Wisconsin’s secondary has speed. And hops. And kicks: Safeties D’Cota Dixon and Leo Musso showed off some serious athleticism on their combined three interceptions. Both have wheels, too. Musso ran down and wrapped up Kendrick Foster on a 19-yard carry early in the first half. Then there’s Dixon, who looked more like a running back on his 40-yard interception return. Sojourn Shelton joined the spectacle, showing off some skills usually seen on a different kind of field.
Corey Clement’s first touchdown. Not only did it bring some life to an initially flat Camp Randall Stadium, it helped establish a run game that would last the entire game. One of the senior running back’s goals this season has been to run with more patience. When Clement danced behind blocks, waiting for the best gap to attack, not the first, he certainly looked like he had found a way to accomplish just that. The rest of Wisconsin’s rushing attempts followed suit—it was all downhill running from there.
Does Wisconsin do enough on offense? Touting an 8-2 record as it does, it would appear so. However, the Badgers have lingered toward the bottom of the Big Ten all season for points at 23.6 per game. The Badgers needed a 30-plus point game to reassure themselves and the College Football Playoff selection committee that they can contend with any team.
Which version of the Badgers will show up when it counts? Wisconsin’s offense looked as good as we’ve seen it all year, but the Fighting Illini didn’t present much of a challenge on defense. When teams have, Wisconsin’s run game has been more stifled. If the Badgers are able to string together several weeks with big numbers on the ground, instead of just a few downs, we’ll be more convinced this version is here to stay.
Four interceptions, all of which came in the first half. It’s the most in a game for Wisconsin since 2010 against Northwestern.
What it means
The Badgers playoff hopes are still alive and well. The phrase “they control their own destiny” feels horribly overused in recent conversations about Wisconsin, but it is the best way to describe the current situation. The Badgers are no longer reliant on other teams’ success or failures—only their own will will win them the Big Ten West. Victories against Purdue and Minnesota would ensure it.