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Road gets more rocky for reeling Illini as they travel to Wisconsin

Tim Beckman

Tim Beckman

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The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 560-AM.

Updated: November 7, 2012 6:09AM

Nobody’s expecting much from the Illini on Saturday (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) when they take on the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium — except the Illini.

“We’re all excited to take this road trip,’’ quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “You have to bear down even more. You have to come together even more. We’re going to a hostile environment.’’

Even though Wisconsin — a popular Big Ten pick that has started 3-2 — has underachieved, Illinois will need to muster its best effort. After three virtual tossups that turned into blowout losses, the Illini are a two-touchdown underdog.

Asked where Illinois needs to step up more — mental toughness or physical toughness — coach Tim Beckman said, “I’d take both.’’

Illinois has won once (1-5-1) at raucous Camp Randall Stadium since Barry Alvarez engineered the Badgers’ revival that started with a Rose Bowl trip after the 1993 season. Since then, Wisconsin has added four more Pasadena trips, tops in the Big Ten. And Camp Randall’s 80,000 revelers seem to think every home games is a New Year’s Day bowl.

“It’s one of those unique places,’’ Beckman said. “We practice to blaring music on how we’re going to communicate in an environment where you’re not going to be able to do it with your voice.’’

Even though Wisconsin, which usually has a punishing running game, is a shocking 12th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, the Badgers have a great set of backs led by Montee Ball — and a wobbly offensive line that is determined to get its act together.

That figures to be a big challenge for Illinois’ defensive line. The team’s most-talented unit must assert itself if the Illini are going to bounce back after being routed at home the last two weeks by Penn State and Louisiana Tech.

“This is going to be a physical football game,’’ Beckman said. “This is what this conference is all about.

“We’re going to have to step up our intensity and make sure that we can match what the Badgers have.’’

The biggest mystery is why ­Illinois, with a defense that has four or five solid NFL prospects, has been torched 132-45 in its three losses. Communication, which won’t be easy at Wisconsin, is one explanation. Poor tackling, which has been proportionate to the Illini’s lack of success, is another.

What’s up with that?

“Guys are probably trying to do too much,’’ defensive tackle Glenn Foster said. “We feel the weight is on [each] person. We have to calm down, believe we’re going to make the play. Believe in the guys next to you, that they’ll be there to support you.’’

That’s not easy to do when the losses are starting to pile up.

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