Wisconsin 25, Illinois 21: 2-minute drill

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Wisconsin stormed back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to stun Illinois 25-21 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Play of the Game

Faced with third-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the final minute of Saturday’s game, the Badgers turned to a former 5-star offensive lineman for the winning touchdown. Nolan Rucci, wearing No. 93 instead of his normal No. 66, managed to trick Illinois into thinking he was staying in and blocking as the left tackle, only to leak out to the left side of the end zone and haul in Braedyn Locke’s pass for the score.

Rucci said the play was just installed this week and he wasn’t expecting the call in that moment. But when given the opportunity by offensive coordinator Phil Longo, he came through.

“At that point, I really still couldn’t believe it was happening to be honest,” Rucci said when the call came in. “It was one of those things you rep in practice and maybe you’ll run that towards the latter end of the season. Just to be in that moment and catch it, it still felt like a dream. Even now, I still can’t believe it.”

Game Balls


QB Braedyn Locke

It wasn’t perfect, but Locke delivered several big plays in the win. It included a huge drive at the end of the first half to get on the scoreboard with a touchdown to make it 14-7 at the break. Then, trailing 21-7 entering the fourth quarter, he led three straight scoring drives, finishing one with a 20-yard touchdown to Will Pauling and another with the 3-yard toss to Rucci. The redshirt freshman also dropped an absolute beauty of a throw to Skyler Bell for 30 yards on the final drive. He finished with 240 yards passing.

RB Braelon Allen

The Wisconsin running back was a man on a mission Saturday from the moment he arrived at the stadium. Coming off an eight carry, 2-yard game against the Illini last year in an embarrassing loss, Allen tied a career-high with 29 carries while running for 145 yards and a touchdown. That included a big 10-yard run on third-and-10 on what proved to be the game-winning drive.

WR Will Pauling

The Badgers needed their wide receivers to help the young quarterback and Pauling stepped up. He had an early drop, but he finished with a team-high seven catches for 95 yards. There was no bigger one than his 20-yard grab from Locke for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The safety was in position to make a play on the ball, but Pauling wanted it more, cutting inside of him and catching it for the score.


S Hunter Wohler

Wisconsin’s defense struggled to stop the run for a second week in a row, but Wohler was able to slow what would have been some even bigger runs. It included tripping up quarterback Luke Altmyer early in the fourth quarter for a 4-yard gain up the middle that would have potentially been a touchdown. Wohler finished with 13 tackles on the day and waved goodbye to the Illinois student section after the Badgers got a sack on the final play of the game.

What Went Right

The fourth quarter

The Badgers entered the final quarter trailing by 14. All they did was score three straight times — a field goal and two touchdowns — to overcome the deficit, the biggest comeback since also erasing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter against Purdue in 2018. They needed overtime to win that one in a shootout. No such fireworks this time, but the Badgers will take it just the same.

Skyler Bell comes up big

This has not been the season Bell wanted. He has had opportunities to make several plays down the field in multiple games this year and hasn’t made them. But on Saturday, provided with a huge chance in a key moment, Bell made his best catch of the season, hauling in an over-the-shoulder grab for 30 yards on the final drive of the game. It setup the game-winning score and perhaps infuses Bell with more confidence moving forward.

What Went Wrong

The run defense

Wisconsin’s defense got gashed on the ground for 223 yards a week after allowing 200 yards to Iowa. Neither team showed any ability to throw the ball, so giving up that many yards hits even harder. The biggest issue was Altmyer, who ran for 100 yards. Five of his runs went for first downs, including going for 17 on fourth-and-2 to setup a touchdown and 14 on third-and-7 leading to another score. Both times the Badgers had guys in position to make the play and didn’t get it done.

Ugly start…again

The Badgers struggled out of the gate once again. The first quarter saw them commit five penalties, including three of the pre-snap variety. They had multiple drops on third down. When they did get in position to score, Locke made a poor throw to Bell that should have been a walk-in touchdown but resulted in just a 3-yard gain, forcing Wisconsin to settle for a field goal attempt. Holder Gavin Myers proceeded to drop the snap and the Badgers got nothing out of it.

What They Said

Luke Fickell on overcoming a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter

“I’m sure you all had your doubts, not unlike a lot of us. But I told those guys afterwards, that’s this is the first time in 10 months that I’ve seen that out of our guys. Probably, what makes me happiest, it’s not just finding a way to win, it’s the resiliency, it’s the really the fight and the grit, that I don’t know that I had seen (before).”

Braelon Allen on how ready he was for this game after getting held to just two yards on eight carries last season by Illinois:

“You already know that. They came into Madison and embarrassed us as a team but embarrassed me. That was something I never wanted to feel again. I was looking forward to a lot of games this season but I think this one was at the top of the list. Eight carries, two yards is not something to be proud of. When you know you have another opportunity to play a team that holds you to a stat line like that, you have no choice but to be excited for it. So I was excited, we had a great week of practice and preparation. I knew what time it was when we got off the bus and they didn’t.”

Best Video

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin played without starting linebacker Jordan Turner. He suffered an upper body injury during practice this week and did not make the trip. Captain Maema Njongmeta started in his place and had 12 tackles and a sack.

— Illinois lost star defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton in the fourth quarter when he got called for targeting on a hit to Braedyn Locke.

— This offseason Illinois defensive coordinator Aaron Henry and defensive backs coach Antonio Fenelus — both former Badgers — celebrated flipping a Wisconsin commit with a tweet. The Badgers coaching staff did not forget, recreating the tweet but with cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes and defensive line coach Greg Scruggs playing the role of Henry and Fenelus.

Inside the Numbers

240 — That is how many yards Locke threw for on the day. It’s the fifth-most by a Wisconsin quarterback in his starting debut

56 — That’s how many yards Allen had in the fourth quarter and it included four first downs. He also moved past Corey Clement for the 13th most yards in school history with 3,214.

10-for-10 — That is what kicker Nathaniel Vakos is on kicks inside 50 yards this year after knocking one in from 41 yards out. He’s 11-for-12 overall.

21 — That’s how many wins the Badgers have over Illinois since 1993. They are 21-5-1 in that time.

10-for-17 — That’s what Wisconsin went on third down. It’s the third time in the last four games that have been north of 50%.

3-1 — That is Wisconsin’s record in Big Ten play this year. It has the Badgers sitting a 1/2 game up on Iowa for first in the West Division.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) will come back home to face its toughest task of the season as unbeaten and No. 3 Ohio State (7-0, 4-0) visit Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since 2016. Kick is set for 6:30 p.m. on NBC.