Badgers Try To End Losing Streak vs. Illini

The Wisconsin Badgers try to bounce back from an ugly loss when they travel to face the Illinois Fighting Illini in a Big Ten Conference contest on Saturday. The game is scheduled for a 3:30 pm ET kickoff at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

The Badgers (1-3, 0-2) have been one of the bigger disappointments in College Football so far this season and are coming off a 38-17 home loss to Michigan last weekend. Wisconsin has lost two in a row, though both losses were to opponents ranked in the top 15 of the country.

Illinois (2-4, 1-2) is coming off its second win of the season, a 24-14 victory over visiting Charlotte. That victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Illini, who hadn’t won since a season-opening victory over Nebraska, also at home.

Bovada has listed Wisconsin as a 10-point favorite in this game, with the over/under set at 42.5 points. BetUS is a little more on the Badgers, making them a 10.5-point favorite, while the over/under is listed at 42 points if you’re betting online on that sportsbook.

Who Starts?

The Badgers were already struggling offensively against the Wolverines when starting quarterback Graham Mertz suffered a chest injury that sent him to the hospital. Mertz is listed as questionable for the game against the Illini, which would have Chase Wolf under center if Mertz is unable to go.

Mertz has completed 56.0 percent of his passes this season, with six interceptions and three touchdowns, though one of those scoring strikes came against the Wolverines before his injury. Wolf was 3-for-8 for 52 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, but he also threw an interception and fumbled.

Running back Chez Mellusi has been the Badgers’ most productive rusher this season, going for 345 yards and two touchdowns. Mellusi has struggled in the last two games, however, totaling 67 yards on 24 carries.

The Wisconsin defense hasn’t been up to par either, allowing 28.0 points per game to rank 13th in the Big Ten. The Badgers are second in the conference in yards per game, allowing 272.2, including just 46.8 yards on the ground per contest.

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Familiar Foe

First-year Illinois coach Bret Bielema is quite familiar with the Badgers, having been the head coach at Wisconsin from 2006 to 2012, taking the team to three straight Rose Bowls. Bielema went 68-24 during his time with the Badgers but has been under .500 in his six seasons as head coach of Arkansas and now Illinois.

The Illini were able to move the ball on the ground against Charlotte thanks to Chase Brown’s 257 yards and two touchdowns. This came a game after Josh McCray went for 156 yards against Purdue. Those two will try to get Illinois’ offense in gear against the very difficult Badgers run defense.

Illinois’ defense has been stout of late as well, holding three straight opponents to 20 or fewer points for the first time since the 2011 season. Turnovers have been a big part of that, as the Illini are fifth in the nation in fumbles recovered (seven), 12th in takeaways (12), and 15th in turnover margin (+1.0).

Senior quarterback Brandon Peters could be a key to an Illini victory if the running game can’t get going. Peters has played in four games this season, throwing for 398 yards and one touchdown while getting sacked ten times.

Illini Cover In Loss

Illinois isn’t likely to win this game, though it could have a shot if Mertz is out. The Badgers’ run defense is going to keep the Illini’s running tandem in check, but this one will be close.

Wisconsin hasn’t shown a lot of offense this season, so covering a 10-point margin isn’t going to be easy. The Badgers win this one but take the Illini to cover when making your College Football picks.

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