Illinois Loses To No. 23 Wisconsin 49-20
Illinois suffered a 49-20 loss to No. 23 Wisconsin at Madison on Saturday, allowing the Badgers to maintain hopes of a West Division football title and a return to the Big Ten championship game.
Jonathan Taylor rushed for 159 yards and Taiwan Deal ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns as the Badgers took advantage of five first-half turnovers to win the game.
Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) was coming off a devastating 38-13 loss at Michigan that buried its national championship hopes. Next week the Badgers face a division matchup at Northwestern (4-3, 4-1), which rallied to edge Rutgers 18-15 on Saturday.
The Badgers have played in five of the seven Big Ten championship games, losing their last three appearances in Indianapolis, including a 27-21 loss to Ohio State last season.
"Indy is still in front of us. We can control all that by just winning football games," Wisconsin offensive guard Michael Deiter said.
Wisconsin, which has won nine straight against Illinois (3-4, 1-3), had three interceptions and recovered two fumbles on the way to building a 28-10 halftime lead. Alex Hornibrook, coming off an awful outing in a loss at Michigan, threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions.
"Each game's really different, so it's not like we were trying to do something from last week into this week," Hornibrook said. "We just kind of approach it as a new week and played well, I thought."
Illinois turned Hornibrook's second interception into a 10-yard scoring drive to make it 28-17 early in the third quarter, but Wisconsin countered with a pair of touchdowns to push the lead to 42-17.
"When you go on the road and you're playing a good football team like we were, playing against the University of Wisconsin, there are some things that you have to be able to do," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "Number one, you have to protect the football. The turnover ratio, of course, is big each week, but offensively we needed to hold onto the ball. You can't turn over the ball that many times."
The Badgers opened with an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by Ingold's 1-yard run. On the ensuing possession, linebacker T.J. Edwards returned an interception 28 yards to the Illinois 25-yard line and two plays later freshman Aron Cruickshank scored on a 23-yard jet sweep to put Wisconsin up 14-0.
Illinois was 2 of 12 on third downs and all three interceptions occurred on third down.
"I think the biggest thing was we knew they wanted to run the ball, so early on we had to do what we could to get them in third down and throw the ball," Edwards said. "I thought we did a good job on the early downs and put them in tough spots."
Illinois: The Ilini entered with 1.83 interceptions per game, tied for fourth nationally, and picked off Hornibrook twice. They also came in leading the Big Ten in forced turnovers and were 12th in the nation.
Wisconsin: Hornibrook completed 13 of 22 passes for 188 yards, but was intercepted twice and had a third negated by a defensive penalty. But, he was far better than his performance at Michigan, when he was 7 for 20 for 100 yards with two interceptions and a string of 12 consecutive incompletions. Hornibrook became the seventh player in Wisconsin history to pass for more than 5,000 yards and now has 5,157 for his career. He needs 114 to tie Scott Tolzien for fifth on the Badgers' career passing last.
"Obviously, the picks you want to look at a little bit closer and see, but I thought he made some really good plays," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. "The best part about Alex is he just keeps playing and doesn't let the previous play, good or bad, affect what is happening next."
The skies were clear at kickoff and again by halftime, but a brief snowstorm blew in about midway through the first quarter. "It's really fun," said Wisconsin linebacker Ryan Connelly. "We were just talking about how when we were younger, we were kids, just playing out in the backyard in the snow, it was always fun, so that's what it kind of felt like."
Wisconsin could move up slightly as at least one team ranked higher lost, but it's hard to overcome the lopsided loss to Michigan and an early season upset at home against Brigham Young.
Illinois committed only five turnovers in its first six games.
Illinois plays the Maryland Terrapins, Saturday at 2:30 PM at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
Wisconsin trails Northwestern by a half-game in the Big Ten West Division and plays the Wildcats on the road next week.