In matchup between underperformers, Wisconsin’s offense outlasts Illinois’ defense

MADISON, Wis. — In a matchup between the two worst offenses in the Big Ten, Illinois’ defense ran out of gas in the second half against Montee Ball and the Wisconsin offense. The Illini kept the game close well into the third quarter, but Ball and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis exposed weaknesses in the Illinois defense.

“As a defense, we’ve got to stop giving up big plays because that’s what’s hurting us,” defensive lineman Akeem Spence said. “We’ve got to cut that out because we know that lowers our morale and the team morale a little bit.”

The Illini held their first lead, 7-0, since losing to Louisiana Tech on Sept. 22 when Badgers quarterback Joel Stave found running back James White on a screen pass that White ran 62 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

Illinois went to the locker room at halftime tied 7-7 having held Wisconsin standout Ball to just 12 rushing yards. But Ball would have the remainder of his 116 rushing yards in the second half, including two touchdowns.

With the Badgers leading 17-7 early in the fourth quarter and the game still within reach, Stave hit Abbrederis for a 59-yard touchdown that all but sealed the game.

“Right this second, it stings because we felt like we did a lot of good things, particularly early, that would give us a chance to be successful in the end,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t finish.”

Stave carved up the Illinois secondary for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Abbrederis finished with 117 yards and a touchdown. Saturday’s game was his third straight with 100 receiving yards or more.

Illinois gave up a total of 427 yards and surrendered at least 30 points for the fourth time this season. All four of those games were losses. Safety Steve Hull said many of the mistakes in the second half were because of players making bad calls on the field.

“We didn’t make the right adjustments, the right checks on some of those motion and jet sweeps,” Hull said. “A lot of the blame falls on me. I’m the quarterback of that secondary. I didn’t make the calls I should have.”

Hull apologized to teammates and fans via Twitter after the game for a “poor performance and mental errors.”

Banks couldn’t pinpoint what went wrong for the Illini in the second half. 

He said his defense had more energy in the first half and played with more confidence. Head coach Tim Beckman didn’t think his team responded well to adversity, letting things “snowball” after negative plays.

“That’s one of our biggest issues, playing through adversity,” defensive end Michael Buchanan said. “When something bad happens on defense, if the defense gets scored on, we need the offense to step up and make a play. 

If the offense goes three-and-out, we need the defense to step up and play. I think that’s something that we didn’t do today.”

Sean can be reached at and @sean_hammond.