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October 20, 2013
Badgers dominate on the margins
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The Wisconsin Badgers got the upper hand on the Illinois Fighting Illini in four of five important categories on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium, all of which helped the Badgers get their first road win of the season.
Perhaps most importantly the Badgers took advantage of two Illinois turnovers and scored touchdowns on their ensuing drives, with the first one coming midway through the first quarter. The Illini tried to run a trick play after Wisconsin's second touchdown of the game, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase fumbled the ball and Wisconsin defensive end Ethan Hemer recovered the ball at Illinois' own 8-yard line. The Badgers scored three plays later, putting Illinois in a 21-0 hole that had the Illini scrambling early on in the game.
The Badgers also held the Illini to just 5 of 11 third down conversions, and scored touchdowns on all seven of their redzone possessions. The Illini scored just three touchdowns in Wisconsin's redzone, including one possession where the Badgers held firm on fourth down to force a turnover on downs at their own 1-yard line.
And while the Badgers also started their average drive 16 yards further downfield than the Illini, the Illini edged the Badgers in the fourth quarter by scoring 15 points to 14 for the Badgers. All in all in was a solid day for the Badgers, who highlighted those categories in particular at the start of their first bye week. Time will tell if their second week off this season will give them the same boost it did against Northwestern, whom the Badgers thrashed 35-6 last weekend.
News and notes:
-- The Badgers have a rare situation this season, now that their second bye weekend out of their last four is coming up. The Badgers will use their time off to regroup on defense and get some of their players, like linebacker Chris Borland, back on the field, before heading out to Iowa City to renew their rivalry with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
"I like it," Hemer said. "Two bye weeks is kind of unheard of. It gives everyone a chance to step back from football again and refocus. It gives us a little more time to scout our next opponent. I think it's a great thing."
-- Linebacker Marcus Trotter filled in for Borland after he left the game with a hamstring injury, and despite some ups and downs he was a capable replacement for Wisconsin's unquestioned defensive leader. Trotter led the Badgers with nine tackles in the game, including half of a tackle for loss. He also recovered Illinois' second fumble of the game, broke up a pass and was credited for a quarterback hurry.
But Trotter was also flagged for an unnecessary late hit during the third quarter, which gave the Illini an automatic first down despite running the previous play as a second and 30 from their own 40-yard line. If Borland misses more time than he and Andersen were hoping for at the end of the game Trotter can't afford to make many more mistakes like that.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.