On paper, Saturday’s game looks like a nightmare for Illinois.
Here comes Wisconsin, with its potent rushing attack that averages a Big Ten-best 298.1 yards.
Meanwhile, Illinois’ defense allows nearly 200 rushing yards per game, and was gashed by Nebraska its last time out, Oct. 5, for 335.
So this meeting won’t be much of a chess match. Illinois knows the Badgers will run the ball a lot, but how will the Illini stop them?
With a young defensive line short on depth, there isn’t a magic solution. All the Illini can do, coach Tim Beckman said, is keep working on fundamentals, correct what went wrong against Nebraska, and hope for the best.
“With the youth and players that are playing for us, you’re going to go through some growing pains,” Beckman said. “It has not been about effort. It has not been about lack of assignments or missed assignments. It’s more about just not making the plays.”
All is not hopeless for Illinois. Defensive linemen Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams are back at practice as they recover from foot injuries. Powell is on track to play Saturday and should boost a fledgling front four, while Williams’ status is murkier.
And looking at last year’s Wisconsin game, Illinois – for all of its struggles in the Big Ten – was down only 10-7 on the road against the eventual Big Ten champion Badgers heading into the fourth quarter before Wisconsin ended up pulling away.
Whatever happens Saturday, coupled with the 60-minute learning experience of the 39-19 loss at Nebraska, will benefit the Illini down the road, Beckman said.
“Right now, with the depth that we have and the players that we have, we’re building this defense, especially for the future,” Beckman said. “You have to put those players in those positions, because that’s who we have now and that’s who we have to believe in.”
The Illini practiced Sunday night to help adjust to Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff, Illinois’ first night game this season.