Mistakes, big plays hurt Illini

Illinois´ Ryan Matha wraps his arms around Wisconsin´s Brian Calhoun in the game Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Illinois lost, 41-24. Josh Birnbaum

Illinois´ Ryan Matha wraps his arms around Wisconsin´s Brian Calhoun in the game Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Illinois lost, 41-24. Josh Birnbaum

By Derek Barichello

The Illini just did not help themselves Saturday.

The Illini lost 41-24 but outgained No. 13 Wisconsin, 538-464.

The difference was miscues. Illinois turned the ball over once, had a blocked punt, missed two field goals and was penalized nine times for 75 yards. Discipline is something the Illini are going to have to learn if they want to turn their losses into wins.

“It’s part of the learning process and until we start to stand up, we’re not going to win games,” head coach Ron Zook said. “The coaches are tired of it, and a lot of guys in that locker room are tired of it.”

The biggest mistake came in the third quarter, which resulted in a Badgers touchdown. Steve Weatherford’s punt attempt failed when Wisconsin’s Jonat Casillas broke through the Illini coverage for the block, giving the Badgers the ball on the Illinois eight-yard line.

“That was a huge play,” Badgers head coach Barry Alvarez said. “We didn’t even have a punt block called. So it is huge to make a play like that when we are lined up in a punt return.”

Last week against Penn State, Zook was upset with a holding call that killed Illinois’ opening drive. On Saturday, the Illini had three opportunities to score, but penalties cost them.

In the third quarter, down 34-17, the Illini had the ball on the Wisconsin two-yard line and came away with nothing. Called for a holding and an illegal formation, the Illini’s fourth illegal formation in two weeks, the ball went from the two-yard line to the 22, ending in a missed Jason Reda 39-yard field goal.

“We moved the ball well today,” wide receiver Kyle Hudson said. “We had some problems in the red zone. We just weren’t able to execute in the red zone today.”

The first miscue came on Illinois’ second drive. After moving the ball to the Wisconsin 27-yard line, a holding penalty pushed the Illini out of field goal range. Another holding penalty made a third and short a third and long, in which the Illini did not convert, forcing the Illini to punt.

On the other side, Wisconsin did not turn the ball over.

“We are just not getting enough pressure on the quarterback,” Matha said. “When you get pressure on the quarterback, you are able to force turnovers. They will come.”

Overall, the Illini were able to take a lot of positives.

“This was our best Big Ten game to date,” defensive lineman Ryan Matha said.

Scramblin’ Brasic

Tim Brasic broke an Illinois record for rushing yards by a quarter with 116 Saturday. The 116 yards are also the most by an Illini player this season. With 358 rushing yards this season, he is 158 away from the career rushing mark by an Illini quarterback.

White Lightning

Hudson had his best day of his career so far. Hudson had 10 catches for 114 yards, including his first touchdown, also the best performance by an Illini receiver this year.

“It feels great,” Hudson said of his first touchdown. “It’s one of the best feelings of my life.”

Hudson said that he and Brasic are starting to get into a rhythm.

“We talk a lot on the sidelines,” Hudson said. “I’m becoming his go-to guy. I tell him to throw me the ball if I’m open.”

Alvarez’s goodbye

For Alvarez, it was his last trip to Champaign. In Alvarez’s career, he recorded a 5-2 record in Memorial Stadium. For him, it was just another win closer to a Big Ten title in his final season.

“I’m very pleased,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think anybody expected us to be 8-1 at this point and sitting atop the conference.”