Illinois 34, Wisconsin 10: 2-minute drill
MADISON — Wisconsin hit a new low in its season with a 34-10 loss to former coach Bret Bielema and Illinois on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
What Went Wrong
Outside of a strong opening drive, it was another rough outing for the offense. The Badgers had just 208 yards, their fewest in a game since 2016. The running game was abysmal, with the Illini holding Wisconsin to only 2 yards, its fewest since having -26 against Northwestern in 2015.
The passing game looked good on that first drive as Graham Mertz went 4-for-4 with a pretty 21-yard touchdown to Isaac Guerendo. But after that the junior tossed two interceptions that Illinois eventually turned into touchdowns and the Badgers would score just three more points the rest of the day. Mertz was also sacked a season-high five times.
Coming off the worst game since Jim Leonhard took over as defensive coordinator, the Badgers promised a much better performance. It didn’t happen. Tommy Devito was sacked a couple times but for the most part had time to throw in the pocket, a familiar sight for opposing quarterbacks this season. When he did throw, he was usually successful either with finding one of his receivers or drawing a penalty. The quarterback also scored three short touchdowns, while Chase Brown finished with 129 yards, a lot of which came on a 49-yard score.
Aided by turnovers from Wisconsin’s offense and drive-extending penalties, the Illini dropped 34 points, including 27 unanswered. The 34 points are the most Wisconsin has given up to Illinois since 2002 – which was also the Illini’s last win in Madison.
Something feels off about the Wisconsin program. It’s one thing to lose at home to a better-than-expected Washington State team or getting hammered by one of the best teams in the country in Ohio State. But for Illinois to come into Camp Randall Stadium and hand the Badgers a 24-point loss is something completely different.
Even before Saturday, it could not be denied that the program had been trending downward the last two seasons and we’d seen nothing to suggest a change in direction this year. As it stands, Saturday is the low point in the Paul Chryst era and there seems to be growing belief from outside the program that he won’t be able to get it turned around.
But those folks don’t decide whether Chryst gets to keep his job or not. That duty belongs to athletic director Chris McIntosh, who told the Wisconsin State Journal last week that he’s “very confident” in Chryst’s approach. What could change his mind? A losing season? Two? Boosters that spend a lot of money wanting him out? Those are all questions we don’t know answers to right now. What we do know is that the Badgers have had dips like this at other points in the last 30 years, but this one feels a little different.
In Case You Missed It
— Bret Bielema made his return to Madison. It was his first game at Camp Randall Stadium since November of 2012 when he was the head coach of the Badgers. Bielema is second all-time at Wisconsin for wins with 68. No. 3 is Paul Chryst with 67, so Bielema’s win allowed him to keep the No. 2 spot to himself for now.
— It was another very bad day on the injury front for the Badgers. Tight end Hayden Rucci was on crutches and had his right ankle/foot in a boot after going down with an injury in the first half. Guerendo was sidelined in the third quarter after getting upended on a kickoff and leaving with an ankle injury. And then wide receiver Keontez Lewis was likely lost for the year with an ugly leg injury when he went up to try and snare a high pass from Mertz in the second half and got hit low.
Inside the Numbers
24 – That was the margin of victory for Illinois. It’s the biggest number in a win over Wisconsin since 1988.
10 – That is how many penalties the Badgers had. It’s the second time in the last three weeks they’ve hit double digits. They hit double digits just four times in the previous 21 years.
3 – That was how many turnovers Wisconsin had. It included two interceptions and a muff on a kickoff by Guerendo.
Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2) will travel to Evanston to face Northwestern (1-4, 1-1) next Saturday.