Following a dominant defensive performance against Northwestern in which seven different players recorded sacks, the Badger defense heads to Champaign, Ill., to face a historically underrated Fighting Illini offense.
If there’s anything we have learned from Illinois’ first five games, it’s that UI is not afraid to pass the football. As of now, they rank second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency behind Ohio State.
Despite all statistics, the Badgers defense will be prepared for whatever the Fighting Illini have to dish.
“We’re going to have to mix things up,” redshirt senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said. “With how much they like to pass, and how successful they are at, it definitely changes how we have to defend things, and some of the coverage’s were going to be in.”
Still, the UW defense will be prepared for the ground attack.
“They have had a little bit of success running the ball as well, so obviously that’s a part of the game we have to prepare for,” Armstrong said.
Illinois’ rushing offense ranks eighth in the Big Ten, while the Badger run defense is currently ranked 10th in the nation.
Armstrong and the linebacker crew have been an enormous piece of Wisconsin’s defensive success so far, but the secondary may have a bigger role to play this weekend. It will be tasked with defending against Illinois’ senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who holds a 64.2 completion percentage this year.
Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton has put together an unbelievable freshman season thus far, tallying 19 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. He will be accompanied at cornerback by another freshman, Jakarrie Washington. Together, the young duo will look to shut down the Illini passing attack this weekend.
As the season progresses, so is the development of young Badger players. One emerging player for Wisconsin is redshirt freshman linebacker Vince Biegel, who has found his way onto the field more and more this season. Last week the former high school All-American recorded four tackles and a sack against Northwestern.
“There were some good things last Saturday,” Biegel said. “I think I impressed the coaches, and will keep learning from it, and keep getting better.”
It is apparent that Biegel is quickly meshing into Wisconsin’s tradition of tough linebackers, and looks to continue the trend in Champaign this weekend.
“Continuing to rush the passer is going to continue to be a big emphasis,” Biegel said. “I know coach Aranda will emphasize that in game prep.”