Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, December 03, 2023
Nick Toon

Senior wide receiver Nick Toon exploded back onto the scene against Minnesota. Toon will have to repeat that performance if the Badgers wish to beat the Illini.

Football: Badgers to face declining Fighting Illini

After Ohio State and Penn State lost and the Badgers (4-2 Big Ten, 8-2 overall) took care of business against Minnesota, the natural reaction was to consider what a de facto Divisions League championship game would look like Nov. 26 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

There's just one pesky little thing standing in the way of that: an Illinois squad, led by head coach Ron Zook, that is a little bit tough to get a read on.

After starting the year 6-0 and safely within the AP Top 25 poll, the Fighting Illini (2-4, 6-4) have failed to score more than 14 points in each of the last four weeks and have failed to notch another win.

That offense, so dormant over the last month, is led by talented sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (1857 yards, 12 TDs, 515 rushing yards, six TDs).

"I've said this earlier in the season: I think Illinois is a great team," senior Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon said. "They obviously have a lot of athletes and they definitely have the ability to win games here down the stretch."

His favorite target, by far, is senior wide receiver A.J. Jordan. Jordan leads the Big Ten and is seventh in the nation with 1,143 yards on the season. The Jacksonville, Fla., native will likely be matched up against senior UW corner Antonio Fenelus.

Fenelus intercepted Minnesota junior quarterback MarQueis Gray last week and has played his best football this year. He leads the team in both interceptions (three) and passes broken up (four).

The Illini are equally athletic on defense, where they rank No. 12 in the country in points allowed, checking in at just 15.8. Junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus anchors a talented front seven. Mercilus was named a semi-finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award, which is anually given to the top defensive lineman in the country.

 "I think both of those two defensive ends, in perspective, might be the best pair of defensive ends in the league from what I've seen," head coach Bret Bielema said Monday.

Toon busted out of a funk Saturday against Minnesota, hauling in eight passes for 100 yards and two scores. He was the top target for senior quarterback Russell Wilson, one of two of the Badgers' offensive weapons beginning again to make noise in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Wilson has a chance to set the NCAA record for passing efficiency, while junior running back Montee Ball already has the single-season Big Ten touchdown record and will be chasing more records for UW's final two regular season games.

Both will operate without redshirt junior center Peter Konz. The Neenah native injured his ankle against Minnesota and is expected to miss two to four weeks. Bielema said he would not doubt Konz being back sooner rather than later, but it seems likely he will not see action before a bowl game.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Daily Cardinal delivered to your inbox

"Pete is the best center in college football that I've seen play the game," Bielema said. "I mean, he's very, very good. So anytime you lose someone of that caliber, it obviously hurts in a certain regard."

Still, Bielema said he expects redshirt freshman Ryan Groy to fill Konz's spot aptly. Groy has experience at center and both guard spots and finished the game against Minnesota after Konz went down.

Sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is expected to play after hurting his shoulder last weekend.

If the Badgers win Saturday, the match-up with Penn State will certainly attract plenty of attention. For now, though, Ball said he expects the team to use this year's experience to keep them from looking too far ahead.

"We're going to make sure we focus on Illinois because we could lose this just as fast as we did [against Michigan State and Ohio State]," he said.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Daily Cardinal has been covering the University and Madison community since 1892. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Daily Cardinal