CHAMPAIGN — Illinois was in trouble from the start Saturday.
After going three-and-out on the first drive of the game, the Illini watched Wisconsin run 18 plays — all on the ground but three — in 9 minutes, 44 seconds. The drive only led to a field goal, but the Badgers’ message was clear:
We’re going to run the ball down your throat; try to stop us.
Facing his old team and trying for his 100th career coaching win, Bret Bielema was helpless. His team was listless and ineffective in the school’s homecoming game, and the 24-0 final score was a poor indication of how much better Wisconsin executed.
These were better indications: The Badgers outgained Illinois 491-93 in total offense, including 391-26 on the ground. They held the ball for 42:43.
“Gotta give credit to Wisconsin,” Bielema said. “They executed their game plan very well. We have some things to work on.”
Chez Mellusi ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, Braelon Allen rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown and fullback John Chenal carried nine times for 38 yards and a touchdown for the Badgers.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz was 10-for-19 passing for 100 yards with an interception.
Coming into the game, Wisconsin (2-3, 1-2 Big Ten) ranked third in the nation and led the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 249 yards per game and just 4.3 yards per play. Illinois (2-5, 1-3) had been showing progress in its running game, but it was powerless against the Badgers.
“Our defensive coaches put together a good plan to counter the running game,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “But the kids bring it to life.”
Chase Brown led the Illini with 35 yards on eight carries. He rushed for 257 yards and two touchdowns against Charlotte last week.
Oddly, the Illini didn’t run the ball until the first series of the second quarter when Josh McCray rushed for no gain near the Illinois goal line after Kerby Joseph’s interception, which prevented a Wisconsin touchdown.
Illinois starting quarterback Brandon Peters was 3-for-7 passing for 30 yards before sustaining an unknown injury while being sacked in the second quarter. Artur Sitkowski replaced him and went 8-for-27 for 55 yards.
“They’re a good defensive team, I get that,” Bielema said. “We have some work to do. This was another step in the process. It’s not pleasant, but we have to own it.”
After the game, Bielema said he had no update on Peters or star linebacker Jake Hansen, who also left the game in the first half with an unknown injury.
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson caught a pass in his 39th straight game, breaking the school record for consecutive games with a reception previously held by wide receiver Lee Evans, who played for the Badgers from 2000 to ’03.