Both the Badgers and the Illini will be heading into this week's match-up looking to redeem themselves from devastating Big Ten losses in week seven.
In previous years, the Fighting Illini have struggled to compete against Wisconsin, but this year their improved defense may give them a better chance to make a stand at UW’s homecoming game. Illinois has the personnel to stop the Badgers’ passing game and force turnovers from Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
A major key to Illinois’ season so far has been the secondary’s ability to end opponent drives by securing interceptions. The Fighting Illini have 11 interceptions so far in the season which ranks in a tie for fifth among all FBS teams. Because of Illinois’ ability to convert defensive turnovers, this week’s matchup to watch will be between Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook and Illinois’ defensive backs.
The Illini look to take advantage of Hornibrook as he tries to regain momentum after his poor performance against Michigan. After throwing two interceptions, Hornibrook will look to recover his usual composure and hit his main target receivers A.J. Taylor and Jake Ferguson.
In order to do that, Hornibrook will have to keep an eye out for Illinois’ elusive secondary, specifically defensive back Jartavius Martin. The freshman has had three interceptions this year. Linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips has also added three picks.
The Fighting Illini have had seven different players get an interception in their first six games and they’ve been able to flip the field after those picks with long returns, racking up 108 yards with defensive back Michael Marchese getting a 42-yard return.
If Hornibrook is able to keep his composure in the pocket, he should have no trouble picking out his key receivers and avoid the Fighting Illini’s secondary.
Of course, another major tool that Hornibrook can use to stay clear of the defensive rovers is running back Jonathan Taylor. With Taylor stampeding the FBS in rushing yards, it seems obvious that he will be a critical alternative to passing the ball against Illinois’ robust secondary.
Either way, the Badgers will look to get their passing game going after the loss to Michigan, and Illinois might provide a tough test for the aerial attack.