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Illinois will have hands full against big-play Wisconsin

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown (shown against Cincinnati) is averaging Big Ten-leading 12 tackles. | Andrew A. Nelles/AP

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown (shown against Cincinnati) is averaging a Big Ten-leading 12 tackles. | Andrew A. Nelles/AP

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The facts: 7 p.m., BTN, 560-AM.

The records: Wisconsin 4-2, 2-1 Big Ten; Illinois 3-2, 0-1.

The line: Wisconsin by 14.

Updated: November 20, 2013 6:11AM

Illinois has dropped 15 consecutive Big Ten games. Its home games are played before too many empty seats. But you know what? Saturday in Champaign should be a lot of fun.

For one thing, Illinois (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) and No. 25 Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1) will kick off at 7 p.m., and night games in college football always hold promise that some crazy things will happen. Also, the Illini likely will break out all-orange uniforms — from helmets on down. An Orange-Out! So exciting! Maybe a little bit?

Five things I don’t want to know yet about this matchup but am afraid I already do:

1. In 2012, Gary Andersen’s Utah State team led college football with 18 offensive plays covering at least 50 yards. No. 2 on the list was Wisconsin, with 15. The Badgers — now coached by Andersen — already have 12 such plays this season,
second only to Baylor (15). This is a terrifying combination of facts for an Illinois defense that has been highly susceptible to big gainers. Yes, more of them are coming.

2. Wisconsin has rushing games of 393, 388 and 387 yards this season. If that sounds like obscene production, it is. The Badgers’ 1,168 yards in those three games alone exceed the season rushing totals of 82 of the 123 FBS teams, including Illinois (879 yards in five games). The Illini aren’t about to yield a season high here, but can they hold Wisconsin to less than its 298.2-yard average? We’ll go with yes, but not by enough of a margin to turn the tables in their favor.

3. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase should be able to put up some big passing numbers, one reason for that being the Badgers are run-of-the-mill pass rushers. Watch for several designed plays to move the pocket for Scheelhaase to give him extra time to throw the ball or to tuck it and run.

4. Andersen lost patience with kicker Kyle French and has opted to go with unproven Jack Russell instead. You can forget about the Badgers attempting long field goals unless they absolutely have to. Fourth-down defense will be a key for the Illini.

5. Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown is averaging a Big Ten-best 12 tackles. The more stops he has against Melvin Gordon, James White and the run-happy Badgers, the better. If Brown isn’t making the stops, it’ll spell doom for a defense whose secondary doesn’t tackle well.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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