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Breaking down the strangest stat from last year's loss at Illinois

Badgers Wire logo Badgers Wire 10/22/2020 Asher Low
a group of football players on the field: As Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard said yesterday, "for us it always starts with stopping the run. When we do a good job of stopping the run we can dictate a little bit more, we can be a little more aggressive."  Going back to key No. 1, if they want to force the issue and turn Illinois over? They need to dominate in the trenches. If they want to keep the Fighting Illini to third-and-long scenarios and get off the field? The same story.  As mentioned earlier, his defense did not do that last season and allowed 141 yards on the ground to the Fighting Illini on a clip of 4 yards-per-carry.  This isn't only about last year's contest between the two, though, as holding opponents to less than 3 yards-per-carry last season actually had a significant effect on whether the Badgers won each game.  Their record last season when they held their opponent to less than 3 yards-per-carry? 8-1 with the only loss coming against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.  Their record last season when didn't? 2-3.  This one also may sound obvious, but along with the turnover battle it was one of the key variables in whether the team came away victorious last season. © Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports As Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard said yesterday, "for us it always starts with stopping the run. When we do a good job of stopping the run we can dictate a little bit more, we can be a little more aggressive." Going back to key No. 1, if they want to force the issue and turn Illinois over? They need to dominate in the trenches. If they want to keep the Fighting Illini to third-and-long scenarios and get off the field? The same story. As mentioned earlier, his defense did not do that last season and allowed 141 yards on the ground to the Fighting Illini on a clip of 4 yards-per-carry. This isn't only about last year's contest between the two, though, as holding opponents to less than 3 yards-per-carry last season actually had a significant effect on whether the Badgers won each game. Their record last season when they held their opponent to less than 3 yards-per-carry? 8-1 with the only loss coming against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Their record last season when didn't? 2-3. This one also may sound obvious, but along with the turnover battle it was one of the key variables in whether the team came away victorious last season.

When a 6-0 team that was expected to role into a climactic battle at the Shoe against Ohio State falls to a 2-4 team that opened as 31-point underdogs in Vegas, there are bound to be some strange happenings in the box score.

The strangest of them all was actually a stat that heavily favored Wisconsin in their 24-23 loss in Champaign last October. In a year where the Badgers had dominated time of possession against most opponents not named the Ohio State Buckeyes, the trend continued at Illinois. Wisconsin had the football for 40:49 of the 60 minutes, with the Fighting Illini controlling the rock for just 19:11.

Why the discrepancy in the box score and in the final score? The great equalizer: turnovers. Wisconsin gave it away three times to just one for the Fighting Illini. The turnovers also came at the worst possible time for a Badger team that was looking to put the game away. On their final two possessions, Jonathan Taylor coughed up the football and was followed by Jack Coan throwing a late interception.

Winning the turnover battle was not a one-time fluke for Illinois. Head coach Lovie Smith preaches punching the football out and finding a way to generate takeaways on defense. The Badgers have been aware of it all week long in preparation for Friday.

“If we are able to hold on to the ball that game probably has a different outcome,” noted senior RB Garrett Groshek on Sunday. Despite controlling time of possession in 2019, the Badgers will need to be focused on controlling the rock. If Wisconsin can put both of those pieces together, the score should take care of itself on Friday night at Camp Randall.

  MORE:

Podcast: What you should know about Illinois football heading into Friday

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Gamblers are all over Illinois this week according to recent odds from BetMGM

Coach Chryst discusses the Badgers' status with COVID-19 heading into Friday

Wisconsin faces a familiar foe in new USA TODAY bowl projections

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