October 24, 2008

Five things to watch: Illinois

MADISON, Wis. - Since Wisconsin lost to Illinois last season, the Badgers have gone a below average 7-8 in their past 15 games. After starting out with three straight wins, UW has proceeded to drop each of its next four.

With Illinois coming to town this weekend, the cardinal and white hope to start a new streak; only this time, one that has more wins.

The following are five things to watch Saturday afternoon:

1.) Juice Williams against UW's defense:

Last season, the combination of Williams and Rashard Mendenhall tore through the Badger defense. Well, this season Mendenhall is no more, but Juice has gotten much better as a complete player.

Not only does Williams have the ability to torch defenders with his blazing speed and agility, he can also throw the ball.

If UW has any hopes of winning this game and snapping its four game losing streak, containing Juice will be essential.

The defensive line will need to get pressure and the linebackers have to be sure tacklers. As weird as it sound, if Williams racks up the yardage through the air, that probably means things are going well for the Badgers.

Illinois likes to establish a running game, and the times Williams has thrown for many yards were games his team went on to lose.

2.) Arrelious Benn against Allen Langford

Langford has played against top-notch receivers throughout the majority of his career. But he was always tabbed as UW's number two corner with Jack Ikegwuonu flanking the other side of the field.

This season as the teams top corner, Langford has excelled against some top-notch receivers.

On Saturday, Langford might meet up with the conferences best receiver in Benn who averages 15.8 yards per receptions on the season.

Benn stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 214 pounds making him one of the biggest receivers the Badgers have seen. His strength and agility will make for an interesting match-up and one that Illinois will likely try to expose.

3.) Complete game?

During their recent slump, the Badgers have not been able to put together a complete game. Even when the defense plays well (Ohio State), the offense is unable to get going. Or, when the offense is putting up points (Michigan), the defense collapses in the second half.

One of UW's downfalls this season has been a lack of offensive consistency. Consecutive three and outs have plagued the Badger offense and have forced the defense to be on the field for long minutes. It will be interesting to see if this is the game Wisconsin puts together a complete game.

4.) Rushing attacks?

P.J. Hill is banged up and his presence in the game is yet to be determined. If he is unable to play in an effective manner, UW will turn to John Clay. On the season, Clay has had flashes of brilliance during his limited carries.

However, as the season has progressed, his carries have increased. Last week at Iowa he logged career highs in both carries (16) and yards (89).

Zach Brown, who has been lost this season after an impressive freshman season, will also come in and see plenty of snaps.

Look for the Badgers to establish a running game, especially early in the game. However, against a relatively flimsy Illini defense, the Badgers may be able to move the chains and stay away from there three and out trend.

5.) Season on the brink

Throughout this four game stretch, the Badgers have consistently given top effort. But if Illinois jumps on the Badgers, especially early, it will be interesting to see how this team responds.

I think this team has too much pride, but the threat of a five game losing streak including three at home would be enough to drive anyone into a stupor.

The start to Saturday's game will be more important than any game this season, especially with the results of the previous four games. If UW scores first, particularly a touchdown, it would go a long way into determining the momentum of the contest.

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