October 24, 2008

Illini looking to spoil Homecoming

MADISON, Wis. - Just a number of weeks ago, the Wisconsin football team was ranked in the top-ten and was enjoying a comfortable 19-0 halftime lead over Michigan. Boy, how things can change.

UW wound up blowing that lead and have continued the downward spiral losing four straight games and seeing their once reachable goals fall into oblivion.

The Badgers will get another opportunity to right its wrongs when Illinois is welcomed into Camp Randall Stadium for UW's homecoming. A win and the Badgers would be within the realm of post-season play. A fifth straight loss would make the rest of the season a slippery slope to a potential bowl game.

The following is a breakdown of Saturday's game:

When Wisconsin has the ball:

The Dustin Sherer era did not get off to a flying start a week ago in Iowa. The junior completed 17-of-34 pass attempts and threw two interceptions as the Hawkeyes routed the Badgers.

Sherer was particularly ineffective while on the run where he would repeatedly erratic when trying to deliver the ball to his intended target. Expect Illinois to bring pressure and load the box to stop the run in an attempt to force UW to throw the ball.

Knowing Illinois will try to force Sherer to beat them, P.J. Hill needs to break out of his recent swoon and have a big game rushing the football. However, coming off a re-aggravation of last years lingering leg injury, it will be interesting to see how it limits the Badgers leading rusher.

If Hill, who missed the entire second half last week at Iowa, is unable to perform to the best of his ability, you tailbacks John Clay and Zach Brown will have to pick up the slack.

Regardless of who is lining up in the backfield for Wisconsin, the Badgers have to establish a semblance of a consistent running attack. If they are able to, the play-action pass will present itself in UW's offensive schemes and set Sherer up for success.

One criticism of the Badger offense midway through the season is the inability to get the wide receivers involved in the offense. Sophomore David Gilreath has made some improvements, but the others, Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon have yet to reach their potential.

With Vontae Davis lurking in the Illini secondary, it will be tough for receivers to gain an advantage, unless the play-action pass can be established and that begins with a consistent rushing attack.

Edge: Push. The Illini defense is nothing to brag about, but then again, UW's offense isn't exactly good either.

When Illinois has the ball:

Juice Williams has developed an accurate passing arm to go with his ability to pull the ball down and run. The Badgers have played decent against the spread at various points this season, but the Illini has arguably the most explosive version in the conference.

Safety play in the Badger secondary will be very important Saturday afternoon. There simply can be no missed tackles.

The linebackers will be able to contain Williams to the best of their ability, but if he breaks into the secondary, it will be up to Jay Valai, Chris Maragos, Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant to bring him down.

Arrelious Benn presents a unique challenge for UW's top corner Allen Langford. Benn, other than being one of the premier college players in the country, possesses a distinct height advantage over the shorter Langford and a big physical body. Langford's play on Benn will likely determine how fluid the Illini offense will be.

In the backfield, Illinois lost Rashard Mendenhall from last year's Rose Bowl squad, but it's running back by committee approach has provided a consistent attack.

Daniel Dufrene leads the team in rushing, but has yet to find the end zone. Next it is Williams and then freshman Jason Ford, who has five touchdowns on the season.

Early in the game, Illinois will try to set up their running game. If they are successful, their passing and scramble lanes will open and it would likely be another long day for Badger fans.

Edge: Illinois.

Special teams:

One of the only consistencies throughout the entire season has been Badger kicker Philip Welch. Last week he hit three field goals that brought the Badgers within five points midway through the third quarter. On the season, he has connected on 12 of his 14 attempts including a long of 52.

However, freshman punter Brad Nortman has been the model of inconsistency. Last week against Iowa, he had a punt blocked and consistently drove line drive kicks with little hang time.

On the other side, Illini kicker Matt Eller has only hit eight of 12 field goal attempts on the season. If this game is close, and a big if, a late field goal may determine the outcome.

During UW's four game skid, David Gilreath has not been able to generate any momentum with his return skills. Credit can be given to opposing punters and great hang time, but the Badger blocking has got to improve.

Edge: Push.

Prediction: 31-24 UW win.

On homecoming, the Badgers will end their month long skid with a 31-24 victory over the Illini. The UW running game will get rolling early, opening passing opportunities for Sherer. Instead of field goals in the red zone, the Badgers will score touchdowns.

Williams will have a big numbers through the air, which is usually a promising sign for opposing defenses because it usually means the Illini have gone away from their game plan.

Niles Brinkley and Shane Carter will each have an interception and UW exacts revenge on Illinois following last season's defeat.

Lea's record:


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