Oct. 6, 2012
After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on Wisconsin’s 31-14 win over Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium.
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- The second half momentum in Wisconsin’s 31-14 win over Illinois was influenced by two kicks -- a Badgers field goal and an Illini punt.
Kyle French’s career-long 46-yard field goal culminated an eight-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Badgers their first lead of the game.
The possession was marred by an injury to Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who was taken from the field in an ambulance. Hawthorne was injured while attempting to tackle UW fullback Derek Watt at the end of a 26-yard gain off a wheel route. That play wound up costing Illinois 41 yards because of the high-hit penalty that was assessed to Hawthorne.
On the first snap following the delay, Joel Stave had Jacob Pedersen running free in the end zone but came up short with the throw. Yet the Badgers were still able to salvage the series by scoring points on the French field goal, which was huge in terms of the momentum of the half.
The shanked punt by Justin DuVernois on Illinois’ next possession gave the Badgers great field position. Again, they were able to take advantage of a big play -- a 22-yard run by James White near the end of the third quarter -- to keep the drive alive.
Wisconsin then went to ground-and-pound with Montee Ball for a couple of runs and then a turned to a perfectly-timed pass from Stave to Jared Abbrederis to pick up 15 yards. Abbrederis was tightly covered, but it was a throw where the QB throws to get the receiver open.
It might have been as good a throw as Stave had all day. Ball scored on a pretty run from 9 yards out on the next play to give UW a 17-7 lead, and the Badgers clearly had the momentum on their side.
After Wisconsin’s defense forced a three-and-out on the next series, Stave and Abbrederis hooked up again for a 59-yard touchdown, which broke open the game. Stave wasn’t always sharp Saturday, but he showed some resiliency. After missing an open receiver (Pedersen), he came back and was able to make some big plays through the air.
The Badgers survived more than anything in the first half. There wasn’t a whole lot of execution offensively, but they did get their first interception of the season and converted it into points -- which is so important when you’re scuffling a bit.
When you’re struggling on offense, you need to be able to capitalize on turnovers.
Illinois’ defense was inspired. Maybe it had something to do with last year’s game when Montee Ball rushed 38 times for 224 yards. The Illini defense is very talented. They have three players who could pan out to be All-Big Ten -- Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Brown and Hawthorne. So they have a very good athlete at three different levels, on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Wisconsin was able to finally open up the game in the second half, and the way the game ended was a positive. If you’re going to have one good half and one not-so-good, make sure it’s the second half that is good, because it gives you something to feel good about during the preparation for Purdue.
That is especially true for Ball and the running game. Ball ran for 97 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. The types of holes and creases that were provided for Ball are what Badgers fans are used to seeing.
We’ll see now if UW can capitalize on that positive momentum heading into what has been labeled a showdown game for them from the very beginning of the season on the road against a Purdue team that many see as Wisconsin’s main challenger to represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis.