‘Out of sync’ Illini falter against Badgers



By Daniel Johnson

MADISON, Wis. – After spending the week warning anyone who would listen that a Big Ten road game in Wisconsin would pose similar problems as Iowa did last year, Ron Zook’s fears were realized in the form of a 27-17 letdown.

The Illinois offense that had been producing arena football-like scores was brought back to earth by a Badger defense that knew what the Illini offense was capable of. Even though both teams had more or less dichotomously opposite games before Saturday, any momentum that Illinois may have brought shifted to Wisconsin through repeated turnovers.


photo DI multimedia



Badgers keep Illini from win

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“The snowball-effect works both ways,” Badger defensive back Jay Valai said. “Chris (Maragos) started with a pick and everything just started working out together.”

Quarterback Juice Williams tossed two more errant pass attempts that ended up in Wisconsin hands, equaling his total number of interceptions from the five games preceding Wisconsin. The Badgers totaled 98 return yards off the picks and totaled two field goals from the changes of possession.

“Obviously, Juice didn’t play very well,” Zook said. “That’s the thing as a coach you constantly try to guard against. He had a couple of big games, and then he didn’t play very well.”

Williams, who declined to speak after the loss, was able to move the ball well through the air, but critical plays produced interceptions that ruined his day passing. However, the entire Illinois offense was noticeably inconsistent throughout the game, with no player totaling more than 48 yards on the ground and no receiver totaling more than 61 yards receiving.

Given that sophomore Arrelious Benn had an Illinois record four-straight games of at least 100 yards receiving, he was more or less hermetically sealed by the Wisconsin defense. He ended the day with two catches for 47 yards.

“One thing we noticed was Arrelious Benn had 44 receptions going in and everyone else had about 16,” defensive back Allen Langford said. “We knew who (Williams) wanted to get the ball to.”

Zook explained in retrospect what he had planned do with Benn.

“One of the things we said, talked about it all week long and particularly last night, was that we needed to keep (Benn) involved in the game,” Zook said. “I said at halftime, ‘Let’s get the running game going and just pound away,’ and we got into some situations where we had to throw the football, and that one kind of got away from that … I didn’t even realize he did not touch the ball (in the second half).”

The Badger offense wasn’t especially flashy in the win, rather it made plays and was opportunistic. Quarterback Dustin Sherer totaled 174 yards passing and backup running back John Clay rushed for 93 yards.

The Badger defense made the stops when it needed to and gave its offense more than ample opportunities through turnovers on downs and interceptions.

The Badger offense, in turn, kept its Illini counterpart off the field when it needed plays the most – the Illinois offense recorded only four minutes and 16 seconds of time of possession in the forth quarter.

“We were the better team, and we lost the game ourselves, every part of the ball,” Benn said. “The coaches had what we needed to do in the game plan, we just lost the game ourselves.”

Sherer proposed a differing opinion as to what decided the outcome.

“The defense won the football game, they played a heck of a game,” the quarterback said.

And an understandably confounded Zook was looking for the answer to the question that is his team.

“The bottom line is we were out of sync today, for whatever reason,” Zook said. “I have no idea.”