Raul Vazquez | October 21st, 2019
If Wisconsin beats Ohio State, would they make the college football playoff? Can the top-ranked defense hold up against Justin Fields and the Ohio State offense? Will Jack Coan be able to step up against the Buckeyes secondary if Jonathan Taylor is kept in check?
Not so fast, as much as the Big Ten world, and those outside of the Wisconsin locker room, wanted to look forward to the top-ten matchup in Columbus against Ohio State, the Fighting Illini would not be walked over.
Badgers’ Dominance over Illinois Ends
The series between Wisconsin and Illinois has been anything but close. UW has won the last nine before this meeting, and even more impressive, has won the last four meetings by a combined score of 145-46 and won last year’s meeting 49-20.
With Illinois losing its last four games and Wisconsin recently moving up to No. 6 in the nation, both trends seemed destined to continue but it was a two-point game with five minutes left to play.
For only the second time the season, and the first time since the season opener, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) were on the road, this time against the unranked Fighting Illini (2-4 Overall, 0-3 Big Ten).
With a seemingly secure nine-point lead with a little over seven minutes to play, the Badgers were driving on the familiar legs of Jonathan Taylor. The Heisman candidate was unable to hold on to the ball after a long run giving the Illini the ball back with 7:12 left to make a furious comeback.
Wisconsin’s defense, which was dominant all year, was unable to hold Illinois. Illinois quickly rattled off a four-play, 75-yard drive to Brandon Peters and a rushing attack that repeatedly gashed them over the middle.
With 5:53 to go and a two-point lead in hand, the Badgers still had a brilliant opportunity to close the door on the Fighting Illini.
Man, did they do anything but seal the deal on the ensuing drive.
The Illini Finish the Improbable
A conversion on third and three to Jake Ferguson brought hope back for the Badgers, a look to Ferguson was returned to on a corner route which had worked throughout the game but Illinois cornerback Tony Adams made the play of the game with a leaping interception at the Illinois 47-yard line.
The interception quickly made the possibility of an upset reality, and likely.
The underwhelming homecoming crowd of 37,363 woke up and gave one of the biggest roars you’ll ever hear.
The Fighting Illini did not need to move the ball much to get into the range for junior kicker James McCourt who hit from 50 a week ago against Michigan and also hit a career, and school, long of 57 earlier in the season against Eastern Michigan.
Two first downs were all Illinois needed for their kicker. One came on 3rd and 6 on a nine-yard contested catch, and the other one came on a familiar play that killed the Wisconsin defense all afternoon: a run up the middle.
The nine-play, thirty-two-yard drive, set up McCourt for a 39-yard field goal which was easily good.
For the first time all season the Badgers would trail in a game and it would come with triple zeros on the clock and Illinois up one.
UW will face a quick turnaround with a trip to Columbus up next for a tangle with undefeated No. 3 Ohio State. A matchup that was assumed to be between two undefeated teams, will now be between a perennial contender and a team coming off a disappointing loss.
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