Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wisconsin overcomes injuries to take down Illinois, 24-13

                                Photo Credit: Geno Green

Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Wisconsin Badgers coach Paul Chryst and Saturday's game at the Illinois Fighting Illini presented a new set of challenges with the injury bug.

After losing starting quarterback Joel Stave, wide receiver Robert Wheelwright and center Dan Voltz, Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten West) would show its depth in a 24-13 victory over Illinois (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten West) Saturday in front of 45,438 fans in Champaign, Ill.

"I like how the guys kept playing," Chryst said. "Certainly, you never know how each game goes and that's why you play the game. Guys stepped up and found a way to win it and we appreciate it from this group."

Two players in particular who stepped up— backup quarterback Bart Houston relieving Stave, completing 22 of 33 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions and Alex Erickson's all-around performance with ten receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, to go along with four rushes for 81 yards.

The chemistry between Houston and Erickson began to surface in the second half— highlighted by the game-sealing 9-yard touchdown pass down the middle with 9:42 left in the game to put the Badgers ahead 24-13.

"I worked with Bart a lot through training camp and knew what type of throws he was going to make and believed in the playcalling," Erickson said after the win. 

Houston echoed similar sentiments about the rapport with Erickson.

"It is always about putting the best guys in the best spots and [Illinois] happened to be the perfect coverages for me to throw it to [Alex]," Houston said in a humble manner. "It is always good to know you have safe hands somewhere."

On the other side of the spectrum, Wisconsin's defense delivered with another solid performance holding its opponents' opposing offense to 25 or less points for the seventh time in eight games this season.

Outside linebacker Joe Schobert led all Badgers in tackles with six and reflected on the dominant showing on the Illini offense.

"We really put that in the back of our mind, knowing that [Illinois] wouldn't take that many deep shots going that way of the field and playing against the things that you know are going to come because of that," Schubert said.

The Fighting Illini dropped its second straight game of the season and coach Bill Cubit thought the momentum was on their side after running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn's touchdown to put them ahead 13-10 with 7:48 left in the third quarter.

"We still kept fighting," Cubit said. "I mean we had the touchdown by Ke'Shawn [Vaughn] and we get them down there in the kickoff team and then they break off a 56-yarder. I thought that gave them a lot more momentum."

Erickson's 56-yard run up the sidelines on the jet sweep ended up being the momentum shift the Badgers needed midway through the third.

"We weren't sure how Illinois was going to play us on the jet sweep, so my number was called and I made a play and the guys did a great job of getting me to the edge," Erickson said.

The Badgers would score later in the drive on freshman running back Alec Ingold's 2-yard touchdown scamper up the middle with 4:05 left in the third and would not relinquish the lead again.

Game Recap:

On a cloudy and brisk Saturday afternoon, Wisconsin and Illinois made for a very entertaining first half on homecoming at Memorial Stadium.

Both teams punted on its first two possessions, but the highlight was Badgers quarterback Joel Stave taking a shot from Illinois defensive end Carroll Phillips on 2nd and 26 and remained down for a minute with a head injury and then walked off under his own power. 

Houston entered the game for Stave and was taken down on the first play by Phillips, who recorded his second sack in as many plays to force Wisconsin into its second three and out of the first quarter.

Illinois benefited from good field position at the Wisconsin 37 as Lunt dodged an interception from Wisconsin defensive back Sojourn Shelton as the ruling was reversed, but churned out a 37-yard field goal make by Taylor Zalewski for the game's first points.

Stave returned after sitting out the majority of the previous drive and found running back Dare Ogunbowale for a 35-yard reception, Wisconsin's longest play of the quarter. 

However, the drive took an interesting turn as Stave went to the training table to be evaluated and Houston would re-enter and pick back up like a turntable and found Wheelwright for a reception and dive into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Badgers ahead 7-3 with 14:09 left in the first half.

The drive came at a price for Wisconsin as Stave would be ruled out of the game due to the earlier head injury.

After Illinois went three and out, Wisconsin placekicker Rafael Gaglianone's 26-yard field goal capped a 12-play, 59 yard drive in 5:56 to increase its lead to 10-3.

The Illini would match the scoring on their next drive as a 37-yard floating pass from Wes Lunt to wide receiver Malik Turner helped set up a 25-yard field goal make by Zalewski.

Despite a couple of first down snags from Badgers tight end Tony Fumagalli, Illini cornerback Eaton Spence would pick off Houston in the end zone with 0:33 left in the half.

Illinois ran a couple of plays to end the half as it went into the locker room down 10-6 to Wisconsin.

Vaughn opened the scoring in the third quarter taking the handoff from Lunt, found space up the middle for a 36-yard TD run to put Illinois back up 13-10 with 7:48 left in the third quarter.

Ingold would pound the ball in from two yards out to respond for a Wisconsin touchdown to go ahead of Illinois 17-13. 4:05 3rd.

The Illini's next possession would fall short as the Badgers' defense stuffed Vaughn on 3rd and 1, which forced Cubit to bring out the punting unit.

A methodical drive by the Badgers lead to a TD from Houston to Ericsson from nine yards out to go ahead 24-13.

Badgers strong safety Michael Caputo ended up on the receiving end of Lunt's deflected pass with 9:07 remaining in the game, sealing its second win in three tries away from Camp Randall Stadium this season.

Other Notable Stats- Illinois:

- Allison finished one yard shy of 100 with eight catches for 99.

- Lunt's streak of consecutive passes with an interception came to an end at 190 on Caputo's play in the fourth quarter. Lunt finished with 22 of 43 completions for 278 yards and an INT.

- Senior defensive back Clayton Fejedelem finished with a career-high 19 tackles, the most since J Leman recorded 20 vs Missouri on Sept. 1, 2007.


- Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards finished with four tackles and a team-high 1.5 going for a loss of four yards.

- Ogunbowale put together a solid performance with 16 carries for 48 yards and five receptions for 63 yards.

Looking Ahead: 

Both teams return to action on Oct. 31 as Wisconsin hosts Rutgers at 11 a.m. CT on the Big Ten Network, while Illinois looks for its fifth win of the season on the road against Penn State at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN2.

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