CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wisconsin used an overwhelming running game and a suffocating effort from the defense to beat Illinois 24-0 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Offense: Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen
Wisconsin’s running game was the story of the afternoon as the Badgers put up 391 yards on the ground. That included 268 yards and two touchdowns from Mellusi and Allen, who gave Wisconsin two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2018.
Both ran with anger and tenacity through an Illinois defense that was giving up 126.7 yards per game and just 3.78 yards per carry. Both of their touchdown runs came on plays in which they broke tackles – Allen with an early stiff arm and Mellusi running a guy over at the goal line.
The Badgers came into the game wanting to run through the faces of the Illinois defenders and they did exactly that in the best rushing effort of the season.
Defense: The front seven
Illinois showed its respect for Wisconsin’s front on the first drive of the game. Instead of bashing their head against the best rushing defense in the country, the Illini passed on three straight plays. Unfortunately for them, they completed just one of those passes in what started a long day for that offense.
The Badgers choked the life out of them, allowing just 51 yards until the final drive of the game. The Illini would finish with 91 yards, the fewest in a game in at least the last 21 seasons and the fourth fewest that Wisconsin had allowed in a Big Ten game in school history.
The two quarterbacks – Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowski – were constantly under pressure from the likes of Noah Burks, Nick Herbig, Jack Sanborn, and Leo Chenal. The duo went a combined 11-for-37 for 67 yards, including an 0-for-12 start for Sitkowski. Illinois had 26 yards rushing but 23 of it came on one play. The other 12 rushes went for three yards. Of Illinois’ nine first downs, more than half (5) came via penalty.
Illinois’ offense is not good but what Wisconsin did Saturday and this season remains the most impressive aspect of this team.
— Wisconsin’s starting right tackle Logan Bruss missed the game with an injury. Redshirt freshman Tanor Bortolini started in his spot. Coach Paul Chryst said that they did not know for sure that Bruss would not be able to play until Friday. It was the first career start for Bortolini.
— Illinois is led by former UW coach Bret Bielema, who dropped to 31-39 as a head coach since leaving Madison in 2012. He was 68-24 at Wisconsin.
— Graham Mertz had an opportunity for at least three touchdowns but was unable to connect on any of them. On Wisconsin’s first drive, he locked on to Chimere Dike in the back of the end zone and missed Danny Davis on a crosser that would have been a score. Later, he did not get a pass out to Kendric Pryor on a deep ball that would have been a touchdown and instead ended up as an interception. And then in the third quarter, he had tight end Jake Ferguson wide open for a score but underthrew him. Mertz ended up 10-for-19 for 100 yards.
— Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters was forced out of the game in the first half due to injury. It’s the second time the Badgers have knocked Peters out of a game. They also did it when he was the starter at Michigan in 2019.
Inside the Numbers
39 – That is how many straight games that Jake Ferguson has caught a pass in. It is a new school record.
3 – That is how many runs of 20 or more yards the Badgers had on the day. They had two in the first four games combined.
23.9 – That is the third-down percentage of Wisconsin’s opponents this year after Illinois went 1-for-12.
0 – That is how many snaps Jalen Berger played. While Mellusi, Allen, fullback John Chenal and even walk-on Brady Schipper got carries, the redshirt freshman did not step on the field.
9 – That is how many penalties Wisconsin was called for. It was the most since having nine penalties in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. Four of the nine were defensive pass interference. Illinois was not called for a single penalty.
-2 – That was Wisconsin’s turnover margin, as Mertz threw an interception and Allen lost a fumble. The Badgers had the worst turnover margin in the country coming in and are now -11 for the season.
1-5 – That’s Wisconsin’s record when Mertz throws an interception. Saturday marked their first win.
1 — That’s how many shutouts the Wisconsin defense technically has this year. The group also didn’t allow a score against Eastern Michigan but the Badgers threw an interception that go returned for a touchdown.
Wisconsin (2-3, 1-2) will welcome Army (4-1) to Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday night.