Wisconsin badgered, beaten by Illini



By Jason Grodsky

Illinois football is quickly gaining respect not just around the Big Ten but around the entire country.

Behind junior running back Rashard Mendenhall’s 160 yards rushing and three touchdowns, the now-No. 18 Illinois football team knocked off its second ranked opponent in as many weeks, beating No. 5 Wisconsin 31-26 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

The Illini snapped Wisconsin’s 14-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, to improve to 3-0 in the Big Ten, for the first time since 1990, and 5-1 overall. It was also the first time the Illini had beaten a top-five team since 1989.

“This game was a statement for us,” Mendenhall said. “I really can’t say where everyone sees us, but I feel we are definitely gaining respect. People are starting to see us as a legitimate program. Right now we’re on a revenge tour for last two years.”


photo DI multimedia



Illinois vs. Wisconsin

Click to view an audio slideshow about the game.

Illinois built a 17-6 halftime lead with a 32-yard touchdown run and a five-yard touchdown reception by Mendenhall. The Skokie, Ill., native averaged 11.1 yards per carry in the first half, running the ball nine times for 100 yards.

Mendenhall found the end zone for the third time in the game midway through the third quarter on a five-yard run following a Wisconsin score that had pulled the Badgers to within four at 17-13.

“(Rashard) just keeps doing it,” head coach Ron Zook said. “He just keeps getting better. Now I think you are seeing the Rashard that we all saw when he came out of high school. Assistant head coach Reggie Mitchell has done an unbelievable job with him.”

For the second straight week, defensive backs Kevin Mitchell and Vontae Davis had interceptions as the Illini defense forced the Badgers to put the ball in the air by shutting down Wisconsin’s running game.

Wisconsin sophomore running back P.J. Hill came into the game averaging 133.4 rushing yards per game, but was held to a season-low 83 yards rushing and one touchdown.

“We knew they wanted to run the ball,” Mitchell said. “They hadn’t passed the ball that much and we wanted to make them come after us and we knew as a secondary that it would be on us to step up.”

Illinois exposed a Wisconsin defense that was suspect to big plays last week against Michigan State, tallying nine plays of more than 20 yards.

Sophomore quarterback Juice Williams had two runs of 24 yards and a run of 23 yards on his way to 92 rushing yards on the day. Williams was 12 for 19 passing for 121 yards.

“I was relaxed out there,” Williams said. “When I’m relaxed and comfortable I play much better and that was the biggest factor for me today. It allowed me to make plays.”

For the second straight game redshirt freshman quarterback Eddie McGee replaced Williams late in the fourth quarter, this time after Williams went down with a knee injury.

McGee sealed the victory for the Illini with a five-yard touchdown run with less than four minutes remaining to give the Illini a 31-19 lead and hand the Badgers their first loss since Sept. 16, 2006, at Michigan.

“We were joking with Eddie that he is our closer,” junior receiver Kyle Hudson said. “He’s come in the past two games and shut the door. We’re confident with him and Juice in there. It’s a good situation to be in with two guys that can play like that at quarterback.”