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Wisconsin Football Defeats Illinois in Stunner: Here’s What Stood Out

Wisconsin football took down Illinois 25-21 on the road to improve to 5-2 on the season; here’s what stood out.



Wisconsin Football; Badgers running back Braelon Allen celebrates a touchdown with tight end Hayden Rucci.
Oct 21, 2023; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Braelon Allen (0) celebrates with teammate Hayden Rucci (87) after scoring a touchdown against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Fickell and the University of Wisconsin Badgers football team (5-2, 3-1 B1G) put together a resilient and gritty second-half performance to secure a thrilling victory on the road against Illinois with a score of 25-21 at Memorial Stadium.

Here are a few things that stood out from the Wisconsin Badgers week eight victory over Bret Bielema and the Fighting Illini. 

Wisconsin Football Rallied Behind Braedyn Locke 

First, let’s talk about Braedyn Locke, the Wisconsin football redshirt freshman quarterback making his first career start in place of the injured Tanner Mordecai

I thought his composure was evident as he worked through his progressions, threw some great downfield passes, and showed a strong command of the Badgers offense. 

On the day, Locke completed 21 out of 41 pass attempts, accumulating 240 yards through the air. He threw for two touchdowns with zero interceptions but did have one fumble.

His defining moment came when Wisconsin football faced a third goal on the three-yard line with only 31 seconds left on the clock, deep in Illini territory. Locke’s poise was on full display as he found Nolan Rucci wide open in the endzone corner, securing a game-changing touchdown and a 25-21 lead with just 25 seconds remaining.

The Badgers defense held strong in the final moments, sealing the comeback victory on the road. It was a tremendous moment for Locke, and it’s clear that he has tremendous long-term potential in this offense. 

Wisconsin Football Running Game Came Alive in the 2nd Half 

Coming into Saturday’s road contest against Illinois, my expectation was that the Wisconsin football team would heavily rely on their running game to ease the burden on Braedyn Locke making his first start. Well, I wasn’t far off, considering the Badgers ran the ball 35 times on the day.

Wisconsin football star running back Braelon Allen had a remarkable game, carrying the ball 29 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 16 yards.

Credit also goes to the coaching staff for their smart offensive play-calling, especially in the second half. The decision to run the ball with Allen on a crucial third and 10 in the final drive caught the Illinois defense off guard and secured a much-needed first down.

Overall, I thought Agent 0 ran with authority all day and served as a catalyst for the Wisconsin Badgers offense when things were stagnant. 

Other Wisconsin Badgers Musings 

Inside linebacker Maema Njongmeta got the start for UW’s defense in place of the injured Jordan Turner. He capitalized on that opportunity, registering 12 tackles, 2.0 TFL, and a sack.

The former All-Big Ten linebacker was unexpectedly benched during the Purdue game and has served as a backup ever since. However, his standout performance suggests he might deserve more playing time going forward.

Will Pauling is the Wisconsin football team’s WR1, hands down.

The slot wideout totaled seven catches for 95 yards and made an incredible touchdown catch in traffic, bringing the Badgers within striking distance during the fourth quarter.

Pauling is the first Wisconsin Badgers player to record 60+ receiving yards in 3 straight games since Quintez Cephus in 2019.

I couldn’t be more impressed with how Pauling has grown within Phil Longo’s offense — he’s the best pass-catching option in the program.

Hunter Wohler, per usual, was all over the field. The Wisconsin native tallied an impressive 13 tackles during the game and made numerous impactful plays.

Wohler now has four 10+ tackle performances this season. He entered the game ranked 2nd in the Big Ten with 9.5 tackles per game this season.

He’s so league.


Darryl Peterson had a few good moments today, finishing with five tackles and 1.5 sacks on the afternoon. While he demonstrates some potential as a pass-rusher, I’m unsure whether he possesses the necessary athleticism to develop into a game-wrecker. Only time will tell.


The Wisconsin football offensive line needs to figure out this penalties situation — this is getting ridiculous.


Luke Fickell and Phil Longo are going to need a wheelbarrow to help carry those STONES home from Illinois.

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Dillon Graff is a Substack newsletter best-selling author, publisher of AllBadgers, and the owner of, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today's BadgersWire, Athlon Sports, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and FanSided.