Badgers stunned at Illinois, lose first game of the season in major upset

Illinois fans storm the field after pulling off massive upset on homecoming weekend. 

Illinois fans storm the field after pulling off massive upset on homecoming weekend. 

Image By: Photo Courtesy of Illinois Football Twitter

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Just a week ago, the visiting Michigan State Spartans had enjoyed the craze that is the tradition of Jump Around at Camp Randall, even in the midst of being shutout 17-0.

A week later, this time on the road, the opposing team would enjoy the joy of Jump Around, but this time at Badgers’ expense, as Wisconsin players slowly walked off the field following a game-winning field goal, making their way through crowds of overjoyed Illinois players and fans. 

No. 6 Wisconsin (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) played their first road game since August 30th, which was the season opener against Central Florida, against the unranked Illinois Fighting Illini (3-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten).

All signs pointed towards another dominant performance for the Badgers – UW was 30.5 point favorites entering the game. UW had won the last nine meetings against the Fighting Illini and had won the last four meetings by a combined score of 145-46. 

With a seemingly secure nine-point lead with a little over seven minutes to play, the Badgers were driving on the familiar legs of Jonathan Taylor. The Heisman candidate was unable to hold on to the ball after a run of eight, giving the Illini the ball back with 7:12 left to play.

Illinois quickly rattled off a four-play, 75-yard drive led by Brandon Peters and a rushing attack that repeatedly gashed them over the middle. 

“They stuck around and took advantage of our mistakes,” senior linebacker Zach Baun said. 

With 5:53 to go and a two-point lead in hand, the Badgers still had an opportunity to close the door on the Fighting Illini. 

Ferguson had ben effective on third down all afternoon, and was looked to again on a corner route, but cornerback Tony Adams made the play of the game with a leaping interception at the Illinois 47-yard line. 

“We hit (Ferguson) on a bunch of corners all game, but the corner dropped down a little bit and made a great play,” junior quarterback Jack Coan said. 

The interception quickly made the possibility of an upset real, and likely. 

The underwhelming homecoming crowd of 37,363 woke up and gave breathed life into Memorial Stadium. 

The Fighting Illini did not need to move the ball much to get into the range for junior kicker James McCourt who hit from 50 a week ago against Michigan and also hit a career, and school, long of 57 earlier in the season against Eastern Michigan. 

Two first downs were all Illinois needed for their kicker. One came on 3rd and 6 on a nine-yard contested catch, and the other one came on a familiar play that killed the Wisconsin defense all afternoon: a run up the middle. 

The nine-play, thirty-two-yard drive, set up McCourt for a 39-yard field goal which was easily good. 

Baun couldn’t bear to look. He chose to judge the result of the kick based on the reaction of the crowd. 

The roar told the story and for the first time all season, UW trailed and it would come with no time left and Illinois up one. 

With an opening drive touchdown connection from Jack Coan to Jake Ferguson – the sixth opening drive touchdown in seven games – the Badgers looked to be well on their way to easily handle one of the Big Ten bottom-dwellers. 

On the first play of the opening drive, Jonathan Taylor ripped off a12 yard run to eclipse 5,000 yards for his career and become only the fourth player to do so by his junior year. 

That score would be one of only two touchdowns on the day for the Badgers offense. The other coming after being set up at the Illinois 15 off of a forced fumble. 

Throughout the game, the Illini defense bent but did not break. They were able to hold the Badgers offense to just two touchdowns on five trips in the red zone. 

“We didn’t make enough plays, and they did,” head coach Paul Chryst said. 

One of those trips to the red zone, Collin Larsh was set up to attempt a 37-yard field goal. Larsh shanked it, his third miss of the season. 

“That’s my job to make that,” Larsh said. “I left three out there and we lose the game by one point. That’s on me.”

Jake Ferguson echoed that sentiment: “we left a lot out there.”

Against Northwestern, the stout Wisconsin defense was able to pick up the slack for the struggling offense, but that didn’t happen  against Illinois. 

Just before halftime, the UW defense allowed a short pitch and catch to Danny Navarro go for 48-yards for a score after multiple missed tackles. 

The long score brought the deficit down to 10-7 and kept Illinois in striking range, going into halftime only trailing 13-7. 

Two Jonathan Taylor runs extended the lead to 13 after the Wisconsin defense forced a turnover after halftime. 

Illinois Running back Reggie Corbin would respond with a 43-yard scamper to make it 20-14 and make the outside shot of an upset a real possibility. 

A third Larsh field goal extended the Badgers lead to nine and make it a two-score game. 

The loss is the first blemish on Wisconsin’s record and comes right before a highly anticipated matchup with Ohio State in Columbus.

“No. Not at all. We just flat out got outplayed,” senior linebacker Chris Orr said regarding the possibility that UW had looked ahead to their matchup with Ohio State. 

The team will now have a quick turnaround and need to prepare for one of the best teams in the nation and can’t let the loss define the week or the season. 

Orr is one of the many leaders on the squad who will be tasked with getting the team ready and have their mind in the right place in order to prepare for a team like Ohio State. 

“The season is nowhere near over,” Jonathan Taylor said. “That was not the last game of the season. We still have work to do.”

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