ILLINI GAMEDAY LIVE BLOG: FINAL - No. 14 Wisconsin 45, Illinois 7

Feel free to log in and join the in-game discussion as for the Illini Gameday Live Blog as Illinois opens up the Big Ten Conference football season with a road game at No. 14 Wisconsin for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
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Good evening from the Illini Now/Sports Illustrated home office as the 2020 Big Ten Conference football season begins tonight as Illinois travels to No. 14 Wisconsin for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Illinois is a 20-point road underdog and the last time the Illini won a game by being that much of a road underdog was 2006 when Ron Zook's squad won its first Big Ten Conference game at Michigan State. We're a few hours away from game time with weather conditions via Weather.com in Madison is calling for temperatures in the upper 30s but also wind gusts of 8-10 miles per hour. 

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Illinois at No. 14 Wisconsin

Date/time: Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m. CST

Location: Camp Randall Stadium; Madison, Wis.

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 80,321 (HOWEVER...Big Ten officials are restricting no fan attendance at the 2020 regular season games. 

Schedule/records: Illinois 6-7 overall, 4-5 Big Ten, 4-8 in 2019; Wisconsin 10-4 overall, 7-2 in Big Ten in 2019.

Series notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series against Illinois, 42-38-7, and holds a 7-game winning streak over the Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin saw its 9-game win streak over Illinois snapped in last year’s meeting, which the Illini claimed, 24-23, on a James McCourt field goal as time expired. 

TV: BTN

Early line: Wisconsin by 20

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Uniform update: Illinois will be in the stormtrooper look of white helmets with the black block 'I', white jerseys with orange numbers and white pants. I assume Wisconsin will be in white helmets with the red 'W' logo, red jerseys with white letters and white pants.

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Injury Update: Wisconsin will be starting quarterback Graham Mertz as Jack Coan suffered a severe right foot injury in early October. 

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Illini-Wisconsin week coverage

- Matchup Preview: 2020 Season Opener - Illinois at No. 14 Wisconsin

- ‘An all-Illinois high school products offensive line’: Illini OL Starters Will All Be From The Home State

- RG Verdis Brown Gets First Career Start Friday at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith - Training Camp Day 13

VIDEO: Illinois QB Brandon Peters - Training Camp Day 8

VIDEO: Illinois OC Rod Smith - Week 1 Preview - at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois QB Brandon Peters - Week 1 Preview - at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois LB Jake Hansen - Week 1 Preview - at No. 14 Wisconsin

What is the Illinois COVID-19 Coaching Succession Plan? Lovie Smith Won't Discuss Details

VIDEO: Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith - Game Week - at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith - Tuesday Game Week - at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois Center Doug Kramer - Tuesday Game Week - at No. 14 Wisconsin

‘Keep disrespecting Illinois’: Illini Players Not Happy Being 3-TD Underdogs at No. 14 Wisconsin

- A Targeting Call From 298 Days Ago Will Keep Illini LB Milo Eifler Inactive For First Half at Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois RT Alex Palczewski - Tuesday Game Week - at No. 14 Wisconsin

VIDEO: Illinois TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe - Wednesday Game Week - at No. 14 Wisconsin

Illinois Supporting BLM & Social Justice in Uniform Change for Season Opener at Wisconsin

ANALYSIS: The Chess Match of Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz vs. Lovie Smith's Cover-2 Defense

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6 p.m. UPDATE - The inactive list for the Illini tonight includes projected starters at defensive end (Isaiah Gay), cornerback (Devon Witherspoon) and a significant contributor at wide receiver (Trevon Sidney). 

Illinois was already going to be short on experience on the defensive line and Gay, who has 10 starts at defensive end over the last three seasons, represented what little of it was returning. In his absence expect redshirt freshman Seth Coleman, redshirt freshman Keith Randolph and freshman Jer'Zhan "Johnny" Newton to take up that role tonight. 

Illinois and BTN have announced Gay's absence was due to "a suspension for a violation of team rules". 

Witherspoon, a sophomore who played in all 13 games and started three at cornerback last season, was battling Marquez Beason for the starting cornerback position opposite of senior team captain Nate Hobbs. The nickel cornerback spot could go to Tony Adams, who had the interception leading to McCourt's game-winning field goal last season but has moved to safety in 2020. 

Sidney suffered a knee injury in the loss at Minnesota last season but played in five games and started three at slot wide receiver after transferring from Southern California. He had 16 receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown on the season. 

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PREDICTION: I want badly to pick the ultimate upset in the Big Ten football opener for the 2020 season but I just can't do it. I'm thinking Illinois, with its potent passing attack inside a quiet Camp Randall Stadium, will make this a legitimate four-quarter game to pay attention to all evening. However, Jim Leonhard's defenses don't normally find themselves unprepared and Graham Mertz was recruited for these exact moments. I'll take the Badgers at home but the incorrect narrative coming out of Friday will be the Badgers aren't playoff or national champion worthy after "struggling with Illinois" until we get further into the 2020 season to further evaluate how far forward this Illini program has come. 

No. 14 Wisconsin 27, Illinois 21

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6:30 p.m. UPDATE: Illinois has announced its starters. 

Offense

LT: Vederian Lowe

RT: Alex Palczewski

C: Doug Kramer

RG: Verdis Brown

LG: Kendric Green

QB: Brandon Peters

RB: Mike Epstein

WRs: Josh Imatorbhebhe, Casey Washington, Donny Navarro

TE: Daniel Barker

Defense

DEs: Owen Carney, Marc Mondseir

DTs: Roderick Perry, Jamal Woods 

LB: Khalan Tolson, Jake Hasnen, Delano Ware

CBs: Nate Hobbs, Tony Adams

Safeties: Sydney Brown, Derrick Smith

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7 p.m. UPDATE - Wisconsin wins the coin toss and defers. Illinois will get the ball first tonight. 

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14:35 left in 1st: ILLINI TURNOVER - Mike Epstein fumbles his first carry and the Badgers recover inside the Illini 40-yard-line. Not the start Illinois or the senior tailback were hoping for. 

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11:37 left in 1st - WISCONSIN TD - No. 14 Wisconsin 7, Illinois 0 - Badgers turn the turnover into a touchdown as a 33-yard drive ends in the first career touchdown pass for Graham Mertz to H-back Mason Stokke

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10:43 left in 1st - No. 14 Wisconsin 7, Illinois 0 - Illinois nearly throws an interception and goes 3-and-out on its next drive. Illini have held the ball for a grand total of 79 seconds over its first two drives. 

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8:23 left in 1st - No. 14 Wisconsin 7, Illinois 0 - New Wisconsin center Kayden Lyles is having all kinds of problems handling defensive tackle Roderick Perry and the former FCS All-American is looking very similar to the way Lovie Smith likes to use his athletic inside lineman. 

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6:07 left in 1st - No. 14 Wisconsin 7, Illinois 0 - Brandon Peters with a 30-yard scramble for a big play. However, this experienced Illini offensive line is getting blown off the line-of-scrimmage on every play. 

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End of 1st: No. 14 Wisconsin 7, Illinois 0 - On a fourth-down carry that Wisconsin barely converted, Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen was kicked in the face as the Badgers tailback goes over the top of the line and Hansen looked concussed as he's helped off the field and into the injury tent and now into the locker room. 

Big Ten Network says cognitive test were being done and his helmet was immediately taken away.

Turnover is a major play as Wisconsin got seven points on the Epstein fumble. 

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11:23 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 14, Illinois 0 - WISCONSIN TD - A 8-minute, 88-yard drive ends with Mertz's second touchdown pass as Illinois safety Derrick Smith allows All-Big Ten tight end Jake Ferguson trot right by him and he was WIDE OPEN in the end zone for a 5-yard strike. 

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9:54 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 14, Illinois 0 - Illinois offensive lineman simply getting physically dominated and Peters' scrambling is the only form of offense they have. Wisconsin no longer respects this traditional Illini running game so Badgers DC Jim Leonhard is coming with blitzes. 

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6:26 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 14, Illinois 0 - Great linebacker play from Tarique Barnes, who is replacing the injured Jake Hansen, forces a Wisconsin punt. Graham Mertz is 10 of 10 for 80 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. 

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3:22 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 14, Illinois 7 - Illinois 'D' Scoop & Score - Illinois linebacker Tarique Barnes recovers a fumble by Jake Ferguson and returns it for a 39-yard touchdown. The Illini's first touchdown is scored by Lovie Smith's defense. WOW. 

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1:06 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 21, Illinois 7 - Badgers TD Pass - Illinois is having a real problem identifying Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson in coverage. Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz is 13 of 13 for 137 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. 

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0:28 left in 2nd - No. 14 Wisconsin 28, Illinois 7 - Badgers 4th TD Pass - Graham Mertz finds a WIDE OPEN 53-yard touchdown pass to Danny Davis. Illinois safeties Sydney Brown and Derrick Smith are having a serious problem in communication and coverage in this first half. 

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HALFTIME - No. 14 Wisconsin 28, Illinois 7 - Badgers QB Graham Mertz 4 TD Passes - Mertz, in his first carry start, ends first half 14 of 14 for 190 yards and four touchdowns against a confused and outplayed Illinois secondary. 

Illinois offense was almost as bad as Illini coverage as Peters is 5 of 12 for 30 yards and Illinois is 1 of 6 on third downs. 

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End of 3rd - No. 14 Wisconsin 28, Illinois 7 - Badgers kept the football for nearly 11 of the 15-minute quarter but the Illini defense is able to consistently get off the field on third downs. Peters is being constantly harassed by Wisconsin blitzes beating Illini offensive line. 

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12:23 left - No. 14 Wisconsin 35, Illinois 7 - Badgers TD Run - A 66-yard drive ends with a 2-yard touchdown plunge by junior fullback John Chenal. Badgers currently leading time of possession 33:29 to 14:08. 

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4:53 left - No. 14 Wisconsin 42, Illinois 7 - Badgers 5th TD Pass - After running the ball for each of the first 10 plays of this drive and then Badgers find Jake Ferguson WIDE OPEN for a third touchdown. 

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