Game Day

Musso, Dixon lead Badger defense to shutdown of Illinois

Wisconsin cruised to a 45-point victory over Illinois. 

Image By: Jessi Schoville

Senior Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton plays a lot of FIFA, and no one is happier about that than senior safety Leo Musso.

Shelton said he channeled his inner Cristiano Ronaldo as he tipped a pass and kicked it up into the air over his head and into the hands of Musso for the interception late in the second quarter of the Badgers’ 48-3 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5 Big Ten, 3-7 overall).

“It was planned,” the veteran cornerback joked. “Shoot, it hit me in my facemask, it came down, and my leg just went with it.”

Musso backed up Shelton’s story. The two defensive backs had big smiles on their faces after Wisconsin (5-2, 8-2) intercepted Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff George Jr. four times in the first half, the third coming off of Shelton’s foot.

“We planned that, we practiced that and we executed it perfectly,” Musso said. “If there’s an assist category, he definitely deserves that. He just kind of kicked it up for me, so that made my job pretty easy.”

Musso made everyone else’s job pretty easy with his two picks in the first half, as both put his offense near midfield to start their drives. His first interception set up the Badgers with their fourth-straight touchdown-scoring series over the first two quarters, allowing them to pull away for a 31-3 halftime lead.

Junior safety D’Cota Dixon started the turnover-fest halfway through the first quarter as George Jr. overthrew his favorite target this season, junior wide receiver Malik Turner. The young quarterback showed the safety where he was going to throw the ball and made it an easy interception.

“I was just looking at the quarterback’s eyes,” Dixon said. “He stared at him the whole way, which is a gift for a safety, so it worked out perfect.”

Just about everything seemed to work out perfectly for Wisconsin’s defense as they kept Illinois out of the end zone and forced them to make a quarterback change at halftime. The Fighting Illini gained only 200 total yards of offense in the game, and the Badgers did not allow them to convert a single third-down opportunity.

No one on the defense was ready to call it a perfect performance, but it was another step in the right direction for a team trying to fight its way into the Big Ten Championship game and maybe impress the College Football Playoff Committee enough to go even further.

“Something we haven’t always been good at this year on defense is taking advantage of those opportunities to get some turnovers,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Ryan Connelly, who snagged the team’s fourth interception of the game. “When they were presented today, we took advantage, so that was good to see.”

All of the defensive players said turnovers were the emphasis at practice this week, since they were not satisfied with having only 10 interceptions as a group in their first nine games. George Jr. obliged and practically gift-wrapped some of his throws to red jerseys.

“Everybody was catching Christmas gifts, really,” Shelton said. “We were creating turnovers and what we like to call in our DB room your ‘Madden return rating.’ I think D’Cota’s return rating went up a little bit, and Musso’s went up a little bit as well.”

Between FIFA and Madden, Wisconsin’s four-interception defensive performance really did seem to come straight out of a video game. The Badgers dominated for four quarters, and Illinois was left blaming the controller.

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