Wisconsin’s high-powered offense has led it to victories throughout this season. Last weekend, it was the defense that stepped up and returned the favor.
The 15th-ranked Badgers hope to click on both sides of the ball as they try to extend their winning streak to three games when they visit Illinois in a Big Ten matchup on Saturday.
Against Northwestern and Minnesota earlier this month, Wisconsin allowed a combined 82 points. But last Saturday, the defense came up with two interception returns for touchdowns in the second half of a 31-20 win over Purdue.
With the win, Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1) became bowl eligible in coach Barry Alvarez’s 16th and final season.
The Badgers’ Roderick Rogers scored on an 84-yard interception return in the third quarter and Jack Ikegwuonu ran back a 62-yard interception for a touchdown in the fourth.
Wisconsin’s defense finished with five takeaways and has forced 13 turnovers in its last four games.
“Going back to Northwestern and following that up with Minnesota, our defense wasn’t really playing up to our potential,” Ikegwuonu said. “I think today we made a statement. Getting those turnovers really helped our offense and helped our team.
“Now we can go into (this) week knowing our capabilities.”
Wisconsin is tied with Penn State atop the Big Ten, with a showdown against the Nittany Lions coming on Nov. 5. Northwestern and Ohio State are both 3-1 in the conference.
The Badgers want to make sure they don’t let their guard down against Illinois (2-5, 0-4), the Big Ten’s worst team.
Alvarez said he would again hold lighter practices this week to keep his players fresh. The Badgers have not had a week off and will not have one until the end of the Big Ten season, which concludes against Iowa on Nov. 12.
“We haven’t had all three phases hitting on all cylinders at the same time, yet we’ve still found ways to win,” Alvarez said. “I think it’s obvious that they are very competitive, they are resilient, they are a group that stays in the game for four quarters.”
Illinois, meanwhile, is trying to avoid extending its losing streak to six games.
The Fighting Illini were routed 63-10 at home by Penn State last Saturday. They allowed 438 yards while their offense produced only 244, their lowest output of the year.
“There’s really not a whole lot you can say,” coach Ron Zook said. “We’re going to keep pushing and squeezing and turning. We’ve got to keep going.”
The Badgers have won the last two meetings between these teams, but Illinois leads 35-31-7 in the all-time series.