CHAMPAIGN — Alec Ingold and Garrett Groshek scored on short runs in the first half, offensive lineman Michael Deiter added another touchdown on a trick play late in the game, and No. 5 Wisconsin beat Illinois 24-10 on Saturday to remain unbeaten.
Star running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for just 73 yards but didn’t appear in the second half for Wisconsin because of a left leg injury. The freshman entered the game averaging 158.6 yards rushing.
Head coach Paul Chryst said he does not know the extent of Taylor’s injury.
“It was fun to see other guys have to step up,” Chryst said. “We’ll find out more about JT at practice this week.”
Despite Taylor’s absence, Alex Hornibrook made enough throws to get the team’s eighth win. None was better than on the trick play that freed Deiter for his first career touchdown.
Hornibrook dropped back on third-and-goal from the 4 and rushed right before throwing a backward pass to Deiter on the other side. Deiter caught it and hustled his 328-pound frame in for the score.
“I was super nervous,” Deiter said. “I’ve never touched a football in a football game other than @ center. I had the whole offensive line out in front of me. There was no way I wasn’t going to get in.”
Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) gained 303 yards, well below its season average of 462.7 yards, but was able to overcome a sluggish performance for its 11th consecutive conference victory.
After starting with consecutive three-and-outs, Wisconsin came alive behind Taylor, who gained 52 yards to set up Ingold’s 1-yard plunge on his only carry of the game. That capped a 15-play, 92-yard drive that took just over eight minutes.
The Illinois defense proved tough for the rest of the game, keeping the score at 17-3 until the fourth quarter, but the Illini offense never found a rhythm.
“It was an outstanding defense that we were going against,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. “We couldn’t establish the run. We had our moments with the passing game, but not enough consistency to win.”
Jeff George Jr. and Cam Thomas combined to go 9 of 31 for 152 yards. They were sacked five times. Thomas threw two interceptions.
The Illini (2-6, 0-5) finally found the end zone on a 3-yard run by Kendrick Foster, but it came with less than a minute left in the game. Thomas’ second interception – midway through the fourth quarter – ended any hopes of a comeback.
Wisconsin: The Badgers’ hopes for a Big Ten title remained intact despite losing Taylor in the first half. They didn’t look worthy of making the playoffs, though.
Illinois: The Illini have the worst scoring offense in the Big Ten and it showed. Smith’s dual-quarterback approach doesn’t seem to be the answer. In the past two games, George has thrown just one touchdown pass and Thomas has thrown three interceptions.
Illinois hits the road to face Purdue next Saturday.
Wisconsin is on the road against Indiana next Saturday.