Illini to get test from Badgers

Illinois´ Pierre Thomas runs with the ball against Iowa on Oct. 1. Illinois lost 35-7. Josh Birnbaum

Illinois´ Pierre Thomas runs with the ball against Iowa on Oct. 1. Illinois lost 35-7. Josh Birnbaum

By Derek Barichello

Adversity has followed the Illini this season. They will try once again to overcome it when they host No. 13 Wisconsin at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

The Illini are coming off one of the worst losses in program history, allowing the most points by an Illini team in Memorial Stadium, with a 63-10 homecoming loss to No. 11 Penn State.

“It’s tough when you get beat 63-10 on national TV,” said defensive lineman Ryan Matha. “I was pretty down yesterday until we had the team meeting. We didn’t even watch film. We sat with Coach Sims as a defensive line group and talked for an hour.”

What the team talked about in the meeting was concentrating on one play at a time and staying positive.

“Anybody who was at practice saw that we had a great practice,” head coach Ron Zook said. “The enthusiasm was there. The coaches did a great job.”

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Zook said he will be looking at this game as an opportunity to gauge the character of his team.

“I told them, they’re going to go through tougher times in life than this,” Zook said. “I told the seniors, ‘You’re the guys I feel bad for. You guys will be the first guys I have back here when this thing’s on top.’ They’re suffering through this.”

One player who will be tested is quarterback Tim Brasic. Zook announced on Tuesday that Brasic would remain the starter, despite benching him in the second half after an 8-16 passing performance which garnered only 49 yards.

Zook said he was happy with the way Brasic handled himself on the sidelines and during the week but will not be afraid to use back-up Chris Pazan to spell him if needed.

“(Brasic’s) confidence is not shaken,” Zook said. “He knows what he has to do and he also knows – and this is not a threat – but it is always good to know that if things are going bad and we need to rest him for a few series, we can do that also.”

In Pazan’s second half appearance, he was not much better than Brasic. He completed the game 10-15 passing for 84 yards, throwing two interceptions, one of them good for a Nittany Lion touchdown.

The good news for Brasic, Pazan and the Illini is the Wisconsin defense has been vulnerable this season. Bothered by injuries, Wisconsin has allowed over 20 points in each of its Big Ten games, spotting Northwestern and Minnesota 51 and 34, respectively.

“Defensively, they’ve had some injury problems,” Zook said. “They have a young freshman corner, he’s a heck of a player. He had a big game last week. They are an over and under team and will probably play a lot of man (coverage).”

Illinois should be able to score on Saturday, but the question will be whether they could stop the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers have plenty of weapons.

Zook said he expects Wisconsin to alternate between two tight end and three wide receiver formations.

And the one thing to count on is Heisman trophy candidate and triple threat Brian Calhoun in the backfield. Calhoun is seventh in the nation in rushing average, with 127.6 yards per game and second in touchdowns scored with 16.

“They’re very sound in what they do,” Zook said. “They’re not going to take chances. You see them doing the same thing out of different formations. That’s good coaching. The Denver Broncos, they run about four or five plays out of one hundred different formations. The guys get used to doing the same thing over and over, and that’s how you get better and better.”

Zook said if the Illini are going to be successful, they will have to make some plays because he does not count on Wisconsin beating themselves.

“They’re a sound football team,” Zook said. “They’re sound in the special teams. And offensively they can score at will.”

Although it does not look good for the Illini on paper, they realize that anything can happen any given Saturday.

“You always have next week as long as there is a next week,” Matha said. “So we’re looking forward to having a good showing against Wisconsin.”