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Wisconsin Badgers versus Illinois matchup by the numbers

A preview of Wisconsin versus Illinois based on several key indicators and statistics.
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The Wisconsin Badgers (2-2 overall, 0-1 B1G) are back at home this weekend and are welcoming back a familiar face in former head coach Bret Bielema and Illinois (3-1 overall, 0-1 B1G). 

The matchup is a must-win game as the Badgers look to bounce back after a troubling loss to Ohio State and hope to stay on track to compete for a Big Ten West title. 

Here is a look at how the Badgers and Fighting Illini compare based on some key numbers from the three weeks of the college football season.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz throwing the football against Ohio State.

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz releasing the football on a throw against Ohio State. 

Offense

Wisconsin

  • Scoring: 34.75 points per game, No. 31 in FBS, No. 6 in Big Ten
  • Total yards: 433 yards per game, No. 55 in FBS, No. 10 in Big Ten
  • Rushing offense: 211.8 yards per game, No. 24 in FBS, No. 4 in Big Ten
  • Passing offense: 221.2 yards per game, No. 87 in FBS, No. 12 in Big Ten
  • Time of Possession: 31 minutes and 29 seconds, No. 41 in FBS, No. 4 in Big Ten

Illinois

  • Scoring: 28.25 points per game, No. 73 in FBS, No. 10 in Big Ten
  • Total yards: 454.8 yards per game, No. 42 in FBS, No. 6 in Big Ten
  • Rushing offense: 209 yards per game, No. 25 in FBS, No. 5 in Big Ten
  • Passing offense: 245.8 yards per game, No. 72 in FBS, No. 11 in Big Ten
  • Time of Possession: 34 minutes and 54 seconds, No. 6 in FBS, No. 2 in Big Ten

Both Wisconsin and Illinois want to run the ball. Each team ranks inside the top-25 for rushing offense and have multiple talented running backs that they rely on. However, Wisconsin and Illinois have also shown a balanced approach so far this season. The team that can get the ground game going will likely have the upper hand in this contest. 

One area where Illinois has been great this season is with time of possession. While the metric itself can be misleading, it does show how methodical Illinois moves down the field and the type of game that the Fighting Illini want to play. In a game where both squads play a similar brand of football each possession will be crucial. 

Wisconsin safety John Torchio intercepting a pass against Ohio State

Wisconsin safety John Torchio coming down with an interception against Ohio State. 

Defense

Wisconsin

  • Scoring defense: 19 points per game allowed, No. 34 in FBS, No. 8 in Big Ten
  • Total yards allowed: 319.2 yards per game, No. 33 in FBS, No. 8 in Big Ten
  • Rushing defense: 121.5 yards allowed per game, No. 49 in FBS, No. 9 in Big Ten
  • Passing defense: 197.8 yards allowed per game, No. 41 in FBS, No. 7 in Big Ten
  • Sacking the QB: 1.8 per game, No. 82 in FBS, No. 11 in Big Ten
  • Tackles for loss: 5.0 per game, No. 83 in FBS, No. 10 in Big Ten

Illinois

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  • Scoring defense: 8.0 points per game allowed, No. 4 in FBS, No. 3 in Big Ten
  • Total yards allowed: 234.5 yards per game, No. 5 in FBS, No. 2 in Big Ten
  • Rushing defense: 87.2 yards allowed per game, No. 18 in FBS, No. 4 in Big Ten
  • Passing defense: 147.2 yards allowed per game, No. 9 in FBS, No. 3 in Big Ten
  • Sacking the QB: 2.5 per game, No. 33 in FBS, No. 5 in Big Ten
  • Tackles for loss: 6.0 per game, No. 50 in FBS, No. 5 in Big Ten

Wisconsin's defense numbers look very different this week after allowing 52 points to Ohio State last week. The Badgers were unable to generate pressure and were not good at tackling versus the Buckeyes, two areas they will need to be better against Illinois. The Fighting Illini want to run the ball and dictate the game. How well Wisconsin's front seven hold up will be something to monitor. 

In terms of Illinois, Bret Bielema's crew have been one of the better defenses in the country through the first four games. They have limited big plays and rank inside the top five of all Big Ten teams in nearly every statistic. Wisconsin's offense opened the Ohio State game with four straight scoreless drives. That can't happen against another tough defense on Saturday. 

Wisconsin punter Andy Vujnovich kicking the ball against Ohio State.

Wisconsin punter Andy Vujnovich kicking the ball down the field against Ohio State. 

Special Teams/Turnovers/Penalties

Wisconsin

  • Kickoff return: 30.7 yards per return, No. 8 in the FBS, No. 1 in Big Ten
  • Punt return: 0.6 yards per return, No. 125 in the FBS, No. 13 in Big Ten
  • Net punting: 38.9 yards per punt, No. 77 in FBS, No. 11 in Big Ten
  • Turnover margin: +1, No. 20 in the FBS, No. 2 in Big Ten
  • Penalties per game: 6.7 per game, T-No. 76 in FBS
  • Penalty yards: 71 yards per game, No. 108 in FBS

Illinois

  • Kickoff return: 20.7 yards per return, No. 67 in the FBS, No. 8 in Big Ten
  • Punt return: 8.3 yards per return, No. 64 in the FBS, No. 6 in Big Ten
  • Net punting: 37.1 yards per punt, No. 95 in FBS, No. 13 in Big Ten
  • Turnover margin: +.25, No. 47 in the FBS, No. 6 in Big Ten
  • Penalties per game: 8.0 per game, T-No. 104 in FBS
  • Penalty yards: 72.3 yards per game, No. 113 in FBS

Wisconsin and Illinois are each two of the worst teams in terms of penalties in the Big Ten. Most of the Badgers struggles stem from the Washington State game, but even last weekend there were some crucial penalties that hurt the team. Wisconsin has an advantage in the turnover department early on, and with limited possessions the ability to take care of the ball will be even more important on Saturday against Illinois. 

One player in need of a bounce back game is Wisconsin punter Andy Vujnovich. One of the top punters in the country, Vujnovich uncharacteristically had the worst game of his career versus Ohio State. His net punting average dropped several yards as a result. Special teams will need to play well against Illinois to give the Badgers a chance and swing field position for the offense against a tough Illinois defense. 

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