Previewing Illini-Wisconsin matchup -

Previewing Illini-Wisconsin matchup

In breaking down this week's Illinois-Wisconsin matchup, the first word that comes to mind is disappointment.

Neither team is where they thought they would be at this point in the season. Wisconsin began the season ranked No. 13 nationally, climbing as high as No. 8 before going on their recent four-game losing streak that has dropped them to 3-4 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten.

Illinois had high hopes of building on their Rose Bowl appearance last year, but losses to Missouri and Penn State dropped the Illini from the national rankings and a Homecoming loss to Minnesota two weeks ago left a bad taste in everybody's mouth.

Now a meeting that previously looked like it could have conference title implications has instead taken a backseat to the clash of the Big Ten titans, as No. 3 Penn St. takes on No. 9 Ohio State for a spot in the Big Ten's driver's seat.

Alas, the game must go on.

On paper, it's hard to go against the Illini. With the nation's ninth ranked offense, the Illini can score at will when clicking on all cylinders, as Indiana found out in last week's 55-13 trouncing.

Juice Williams single-handedly produces just shy of 350 yards per game, and Arrelious Benn is fifteenth in the nation in receiving yards per game.

On defense, the Illini are anchored by standout middle linebacker Brit Miller and lockdown corner Vontae Davis, but aside from last week, the unit has been unable to put together a dominating performance from start to finish.

Offensively for the Badgers it's going to come down to one man: P.J. Hill. In the team's four consecutive losses, the star tailback hasn't managed more than 70 yards on the ground.

Couple that with the team's uncertainty at quarterback -- Dustin Sherer will be making only his second career start -- and it becomes obvious that Hill needs a big game to keep the Badgers close.

If Hill can draw the attention of the Illini defense, Sherer will have an easier time getting the ball to his receiving targets, most notably Travis Beckum.

Beckum hasn't found the end zone this year, but the talented TE lit up the Illini to the tune of 160 yards when the teams met last year.

Jonathan Casillas is the man in the middle defensively for the Badgers, but the unit has underachieved in general and seemed to regress in recent weeks, giving up an average of 43 points the last two games.

Key matchup: P.J. Hill vs. Brit Miller

We've already met Hill, but it wouldn't be the Illini without a middle linebacker among the nation's leaders in tackles. Miller stepped into the middle after J Leman's departure and hasn't missed a beat, ranking eighteenth in the country in total tackles.

If Hill can consistently get to the second level of defenders, it's going to be a long day for the Illini, but if Miller is able to keep Hill under wraps, it'll allow the Illini secondary to do what they do against an inexperienced quarterback.

X-factor: Arrelious Benn

Benn is so explosive that the Illini have tried different tactics in recent weeks to get him the ball. Even so, he still managed 130 yards and a touchdown the convention way last week against Indiana.

Rushing, receiving, returning kicks -- Benn can do it all, and usually he can do it well. If the Badgers don't know where he is on the football field, chances are he's probably behind them in the end zone.


At the risk of sounding like a homer, I just can't bring myself to pick this week as the week Wisconsin returns to form.

A new quarterback, a hobbled running back -- Hill left last week's game with an ankle injury -- and a less-than-stellar defense doesn't equate to a victory.

I think the Illini win and win big, 38-17.

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