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October 28, 2006
Wisconsin struggles to win without Hill
• Experts' blog
• Scenes from Saturday
• The College Football Wire
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MADISON, Wis. — Forced to play much of the way without star running back P.J. Hill, No. 17 Wisconsin rallied from a two-touchdown halftime deficit to beat Illinois 30-24 on Saturday.
The Badgers (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) survived two first-half turnovers that led to Illinois touchdowns and two separate injuries to Hill to score 20 straight points against the Illini (2-7, 1-4) in the second half.
Wisconsin trailed by four points early in fourth quarter when tight end Andy Crooks fell on his fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Badgers ahead 27-24 with 14:50 remaining.
Crooks originally was ruled down at the 1-yard line after a screen pass from quarterback John Stocco, but was awarded a touchdown on a replay review.
Hill limped off the field late in the first quarter and played only a few more snaps before he left the game for good after a separate injury midway through the third quarter. The redshirt freshman gained 1,199 yards on 202 carries in the Badgers' first eight games but was held to 50 yards on 12 carries Saturday.
Illinois freshman quarterback Isiah Williams was impressive in the first half, leading a pair of drives that ended in touchdowns by running back Pierre Thomas. But Williams looked more like a freshmen in the second half.
Badgers linebacker Mark Zalewski intercepted a pass by Williams on Illinois' first possession of the third quarter. Stocco completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Luke Swan to cut the Illinois lead to 24-17.
On Illinois' next possession, Williams dropped back on a fake short-yardage running play on third-and-1 at the Illinois 41-yard line - but his lob pass floated over the head of running back E.B. Halsey, who was running uncovered in the Wisconsin secondary.
Wisconsin drove to the Illinois 8 on its next possession. But the Illini defense held the Badgers to a 21-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff, cutting the Illinois lead to 24-20 with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Illinois went three-and-out on its next possession, and a 26-yard punt by Illinois' Kyle Yelton gave the ball to the Badgers at their own 49. Stocco found wide receiver Luke Swan on a 19-yard pass to the Illinois 31, and the Badgers scored four plays later to take a 27-24 lead.
After another shaky punt by Yelton out of the Illinois end zone, the Badgers drove for a 33-yard field goal by Mehlhaff to take a 30-24 lead.
Williams and the Illini were able to drive to their own 47 in the final minute, but Badgers defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy sacked Williams to end the game.
Williams took over as the Illini's starting quarterback in a loss to Iowa Sept. 23, and he helped upset Michigan State in his second start. He gained 173 combined yards in Ron Zook's spread offense in the first half, but the Illini gained only 80 yards of total offense in the second half.
Illinois safety Travon Bellamy picked off Stocco's slant pass to Hill and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, putting the Illini ahead 7-0. Hill was injured on Wisconsin's next possession. He returned before halftime, but played sparingly the rest of the half.