Final scores can often be misleading, and Wisconsin's 28-17 win over Illinois Saturday is certainly no exception. While the Badgers (5-2 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) survived their final road test and continue to control their own destiny in the Big Ten Leaders Division, this game was far from pretty.
For once, it was the opposition's turn to make crucial special teams mistakes. Having already lost twice on the road thanks in part to blocked punts, Wisconsin took advantage of a muffed punt and a misjudged punt return by the Illini en route to two pivotal scores.
Falling behind early, the Badgers overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit thanks to Illinois miscues, and another big performance by junior tailback Montee Ball. Having already broken the Wisconsin and Big Ten single season touchdown records, Ball carried the ball 38 times as a part of his 224-yard day, scoring two touchdowns on the ground and adding another touchdown on a 5-yard pass from senior quarterback Russell Wilson.
In the process, Ball became just the fifth player in the history of college football to score 30 touchdowns in a single season
Ultimately, the UW turnaround was due to a combination of Illinois mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, a commitment by the Badgers to establish their bread and butter, the run game.
Having only rushed for 59 yards in the first half, the Badgers didn't worry about doing too much too quickly and simply took what the Illini gave them, capitalizing on mistakes and taking care of the ball on their own.
Turnovers were the story throughout the game on both sides. Already trailing 7-0, Wilson fumbled with Wisconsin driving deep into Illinois territory, leading to another Illini touchdown and a formidable 14-point deficit on the road.
After another punt, Illinois gave the Badgers their first window of opportunity as freshman punter Justin DuVernois muffed a punt at his own goal line, giving the Badgers an easy chance to score that Ball eventually finished off.
While the Illini added a late field goal that came after two touchdowns were called back because of offensive pass interference calls, the tide turned with that special teams miscue to close out the half.
Wisconsin immediately got the ball back to start the second half after Illinois sophomore wide receiver Darius Millines lost a fumble after making a third-down reception at the Illini 30, giving the Badgers great field position.
While it took nearly seven minutes and two fourth-down conversions, UW eventually finished off that opportunity as well, Ball scoring on a third-down pass from Wilson.
From that point forward, it was all Badgers. Illinois added three more turnovers and the Badgers continued to pound the ball forward, eventually icing the game out following a fourth-quarter interception by junior safety Shelton Johnson.
Having gotten through their final road test of the season, Wisconsin now returns home to face Penn State with the Big Ten Leaders Division championship on the line. One more home victory and a rematch with Michigan State is in the coffers.