Homecoming for Bielema, hopeful revenge for the Illini

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Sydney Laput

Senior offensive lineman Alex Pihlstrom (75) and junior offensive lineman Isaiah Adams (78) celebrate junior running back Chase Brown’s touchdown during the Wyoming game on Aug. 27.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini (3-1, 0-1) travel to Madison, Wis., for the second conference game of the season on Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. Facing the Badgers (2-2, 0-1) at Camp Randall Stadium is an intriguing matchup for multiple reasons, the first being head coach Bret Bielema’s return to Madison.

Bielema was defensive coordinator for one year with the Badgers before getting the head coaching job from 2006–2012. In his seven years at the helm, Bielema led them to 68 wins, an AP ranking every season and three Rose Bowls.

Bielema has turned down many interviews to discuss his return and is focused solely on a Badgers loss this time around.

“I’ve never met a successful man who isn’t proud of where they came from,’’ Bielema said. ‘‘Proud of the things I accomplished there, but nothing I did there helps us on Saturday.”

Aside from Bielema’s return, Illinois enters Saturday with possibly the greatest chance to beat Wisconsin in over a decade. The Illini have won just two of the last 17 meetings between the teams and haven’t won on the road since 2002.

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    Despite the struggles, the Illini look much improved from years past and have reason to be confident going in. The Badgers have been a force in the Big Ten West for years, but they have started the season slow with a home loss to Washington State and a blowout loss last week against Ohio State.

    Similar to the Illini, the Badgers send a run-first offense onto the field led by sophomore running back Braelon Allen. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry through four games, Allen and the offensive line provide consistency where the passing game does not. 

    The running game will pose a fun challenge for an Illini defense, which has allowed 87 rushing yards per game and just eight points per game. The Illini defensive line has been stout, to say the least, this season, led by sophomore Johnny Newton, sophomore Keith Randolph Jr. and senior Calvin Avery.

    Problems arise for the Illini when the ball carrier gets outside and around the defensive line, which the shifty Allen is capable of doing. This will force the Illinois linebackers to be strong on Saturday afternoon when helping on the run.

    Offensively several Illinois players have the potential for big days against a Wisconsin defense that showed holes against Ohio State. The inability to tackle Buckeye receivers in the open field may hurt the Badgers for a second week in a row with Illini offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.’s game plan. 

    Junior running back Chase Brown leads the nation in rushing yards through four games with 604 and is hardly ever brought down by a single defender. Against Chattanooga, the Illini also showed an efficient, quick passing offense, with sophomore wide receivers Pat Bryant and Isaiah Williams able to turn screens and short passes into significant gains. 

    With the production matchup slightly favoring the Illini at this point in the season, the crowd should factor into the game to give the Badgers home-field advantage. Camp Randall stadium is known for its raucous environment and is expected to be the largest crowd the Illini have played in front of thus far by almost 30,000.

    After the trip to Madison, the Illini return home to host the reigning Big Ten West division champs, the Iowa Hawkeyes, on Oct. 8.

     

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