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Lucas' Last Word: Slow start leads to learning experience

ON WISCONSIN <b>Montee Ball carried the ball 38 times Saturday, including 10 times on a methodical drive that set the tone for a second-half rally.</b>
Montee Ball carried the ball 38 times Saturday, including 10 times on a methodical drive that set the tone for a second-half rally.

Nov. 19, 2011

After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on No. 15 Wisconsin’s 28-17 win over Illinois at Memorial Stadium.


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Had the halves been reversed, Wisconsin might have learned less about itself than it did Saturday when the Badgers were forced to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit.

The fact is, it could have been much worse. The Illini were guilty of a couple of critical red zone penalties and botched a punt that allowed the Badgers to stay within striking distance.

This season, the norm for UW has been for the offense to bail out the defense. The role reversal wasn’t totally unexpected because the Badgers had played well defensively at Minnesota last Saturday. But it certainly was timely.

In the third quarter, it was the defense that set the tempo with takeaways, as well as a 74-yard punt Brad Nortman punt. Those turnovers and the Nortman kick tilted the field in favor of Wisconsin, which ran twice as many plays in the third quarter as Illinois. That’s where the game was won.

Short way to go and a long time to get there
Head coach Bret Bielema always likes to talk about playing Wisconsin football. Never was the old-school stereotype more classically illustrated than on a 12-play, 30-yard drive in the third quarter that ate up 7:11 on the clock. That throwback series was the personification of old-school, smashmouth Big Ten football.

The Badgers converted on  4th-and-1 twice and scored on 3rd-and-goal. Montee Ball had 10 runs on that series, the longest of which was 7 yards. In the end, perseverance won out.

Wilson saves the day
One of the biggest plays Russell Wilson made was not a pass, nor was it a run. It was a fumble recovery. On a 3rd-and-12 from the Wisconsin 42, Ryan Groy snapped the ball over Wilson’s head in shotgun formation.

Wilson hustled on the play and got to the loose ball before Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan.

Consider the significance of the recovery. If Buchanan recovers, Illinois has the ball on the Wisconsin 23-yard line with a 17-14 lead. Instead, the Badgers are punting on fourth-and-31. That’s when Nortman boomed a season-long punt that Terry Hawthorne misjudged and let the ball bounce all the way to the Illini 3-yard line.

The Badgers then got another defensive stop and scored on yet another short field. They drove 44 yards to take the lead on, fittingly, a Russell Wilson bootleg into the end zone. It was the Badgers’ longest scoring drive of the game.

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