Football

Setting an early tempo, establishing the run will be key for both squads as Illini come to Madison

Establishing the run early will be key for Wisconsin as it looks to help quarterback Alex Hornibrook bounce back from a rough performance at Michigan.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger and Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The Badgers will face Illinois this Saturday at Camp Randall — here's what both teams need to do this weekend to walk away with the victory.

Wisconsin

1. Feed J.T.

In order for the Badgers to get back in the win column this week, they will need to continue to pound the rock with running back Jonathan Taylor. So far in 2018, the team seems to go as their running game goes, led by the sophomore star.

In both of its losses on the season, Wisconsin’s normally potent rushing attack was kept more than 100 yards below its season average.

Wisconsin will have to stick to their run game and should be able to attack the poor Illinois rushing defense. Illinois enters the game allowing 199.5 rushing yards per game, 106th in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.

A strong ground game can also open up the play-action passing game and provide some balance. If the Badgers get a strong performance from their star running back they should have no problem blowing past Illinois.

2. Build Hornibrook's confidence

The quarterback position is undoubtedly the most important position on a football team. A great quarterback can single-handedly transform a middling team into a championship contender. But a subpar quarterback can also very easily bring a team down, as the Badgers have seen through the play of junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

Hornibrook’s inconsistency was once again on display this past Saturday as he played a brutal game against a big-time Michigan defense and was easily handled by their defense. He would be held to just three completions and 25 yards through three quarters giving UW no life.

Wisconsin will be up against a team which has not fared well against the pass. Look for Hornibrook to bounce back after an awful performance on the road.

3. Rush the passer

After the quarterback, pass rusher is arguably the second most important position in football. An elite defensive lineman or outside linebacker can disrupt the flow of the offense and change a game.

In 2018, Wisconsin’s pass rush has not been able to get home and bring down the opposing quarterback. Through six games Wisconsin defense has failed to live up to preseason expectations and has not gotten close to the dominance of last year’s unit. The pass rush has been much of the reason why because it has been frequently nonexistent. The team has only recorded eight sacks, well of last season’s pace.

If Wisconsin can have a presence getting to the quarterback they can help their secondary, which was gashed against Michigan by dual-threat quarterback Shea Patterson. A pass rush presence will help the back end of the defensive and give Illinois quarterback AJ Bush a much harder time.

Illinois

1. Make 'em pass

Wisconsin’s reliance on their running game is hard to overestimate; the Badgers have run on 65.5 percent of their snaps in 2018. A strong offensive line and stud of a running back make it easy for Wisconsin to dominate on the ground. Meanwhile, junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been inconsistent this season and has had a tough time getting a groove.

When Hornibrook has been forced to come up big on multiple occasions this year, he’s only responded late in the game against Iowa.

Against BYU and Michigan, the team also needed a big performance out of the quarterback but he threw for three interceptions in those games as opposed to just one pick combined in the four Wisconsin wins. When Hornibrook has been forced to have more on his shoulders he hasn’t responded well, often forcing it and looking frazzled.

If the Illini can force Hornibrook to put the ball in the air late in the game, they’ll have a much better chance to pull the upset.

2. Control the run

Illinois comes into this matchup with only three wins, off of a blowout loss to Big Ten West rival Purdue. In order to pull off a massive upset against a ranked Wisconsin team, they will need to contain star running back Taylor.

Two of Taylor’s worst performances on the season have been in the team’s losses of the year and have forced UW to move away from their preferred ground-and-pound style of play. Containing the impressive group of backs — not just Taylor but also sophomore Garrett Groshek and senior Taiwan Deal — will be tough, but it’s where their defensive gameplan must begin.

Illinois will need a strong outing from their front seven to pull off a win and put a damper on homecoming week in Madison.

3. Fight run with run

A strong running game is often the key to a good game from the offense. Running the ball can control the clock and open up the passing game. Much like Wisconsin, Illinois has had more success throughout the season when they’ve been able to run the ball effectively, and they should take a page out of the Badger playbook.

The Illini have been able to control the line of scrimmage in their wins. In some, Illinois has had over 100 more yards rushing per game than they have had in losses. Conversely, the Badgers had a tough time stopping the run against Michigan. The Wolverines were able to run all over the Wisconsin defense, racking up 320 yards.

If Illinois can have success running the ball, it will have ripple effects on the game, allowing them to keep the ball away from the hands of Taylor and stay par with Wisconsin.

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