Illini to face top-10 offense, defense against Wisconsin

Although Wisconsin is ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, the statistics say the Badgers are one of the best teams in the country.

Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) owns the ninth-best offense — churning out 519.5 yards per game — as well as ranking fifth in the nation in total defense at 267.3 yards allowed per game.

Leading the attack for the Badgers’ offense is its two-headed monster at running back with senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon. Although White has started five of the six contests in 2013, Gordon is of the best running backs in the country.

The sophomore was tops in the nation in 2012 with 10.0 yards per carry and hasn’t seen a significant decline this year. In 2013, Gordon is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt and 145 yards per game.

After allowing 335 rushing yards two weeks ago, Illinois (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) head coach Tim Beckman sees similarities between Nebraska and Wisconsin’s rushing attacks.

“Extremely big and physical,” he said, referring to both team’s offensive lines. “Our players understood that they were manhandled a little bit in Lincoln. Again, it’s moving them around and getting them in the right position and making tackles in the open field.”

Illini offense looking to rebound

After moving the ball well against Nebraska, the Illinois offense was unable to put it in the end zone with consistency, scoring a season-low 19 points.

“The biggest thing for us is to keep our composure when things start flying around,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “We’ve just got to get comfortable, and I knew that was going to be an issue. It was an issue in the first half of the Washington game and parts of this past game.”

The Illini accounted for 372 yards and 24 first downs, but a four of 15 mark on third downs ended many drives before Illinois got into scoring range.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had his worst game of the season statistically, throwing for only 135 yards and completing just 50 percent of his throws. The Illinois offense struggled at times with the blitz and Cubit said that one of Scheelhaase’s strengths was a weakness against the Cornhuskers.

“Sometimes your strengths are really a weakness,” Cubit said. “He can run, but sometimes that becomes a weakness. Sometimes you get back there and get a little antsy and you abandon things a little too quick. If you stay in there another .2 or .3 (seconds), somebody is going to come open.”

DL Williams, Powell back for Illini

If the Illinois defense is going to respond against the power rushing attack of Wisconsin, adding depth along the defensive line will be key. Some good news for the Illini is the return of defensive linemen Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams for this week after being cleared to play from injuries. Powell has played in three games this season and recorded three tackles, while Williams has yet to see action after redshirting the 2012 season.

“That’s big for us on the defensive front,” Beckman said. “That’s two guys we haven’t had and it’s going to make our football team better.”

Beckman said that while Williams is healthy, he might not play because he’s missed “a couple months” and needs to get acclimated to the scheme and playing football again.

Stephen can be reached at sbourbo2@dailyillini.com and

@steve_bourbon.