The Wisconsin Badgers are fresh off a thrashing of a ranked Northwestern Wildcats team and will be traveling to Champaign this weekend to take on the always-solid Illinois Fighting Illini. The Illini lost by 20 points to Nebraska in their last game, but they contended with the Washington Huskies a month ago and could do the same against the Badgers this weekend.
Wisconsin will feature a run first offense once again this week, which is smart for a team with so much talent at the running back position. Coming into the season James White was the presumed number one back, but the emergence of Melvin Gordon has forced the senior to share time with the promising sophomore. Both White and Gordon are averaging over six yards per carry this season and have scored 13 of the offenses 28 touchdowns to date.
The running game is clearly important for the Badgers, but their passing game shouldn’t be overlooked as sophomore quarterback Joel Stave is getting better as the season goes on and presents Illinois with a tough defensive matchup. The offensive unit for the Badgers averages 37 points per game, and that has been mainly on the backs of White and Gordon, but against the Illini the Badgers should be able to move the ball through the air as well as on the ground.
While the Illini defense is nothing special, the challenge the Badgers will be presented with is how to stop senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase has four years of experience throwing the ball for the Illini. Although he struggled against Nebraska two weeks ago, when he plays well, the Illini tend to win.
The Badgers have done a relatively good job shutting down opposing quarterbacks this season, and considering the play of Scheelhaase dictates the fate of Illinois, the Badgers should win this game and find themselves ranked in the top 20 once again. Expect the Badgers to gain plenty of yards on the ground Saturday, but don’t be surprised if they gain just as many yards through the air as Stave is developing into a solid quarterback and should play a bigger role in the offense as the season progresses.