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Wisconsin Football vs. Illinois: Three Things to Watch For

Here are three things to watch for as the Wisconsin football program squares off against the Illinois Fighting Illini.



Wisconsin football; Badgers left tackle Jack Nelson blocks against Illinois
Wisconsin offensive lineman Jack Nelson (79) blocks Illinois linebacker Alec Bryant (90) while providing pass protection during the fourth quarter of their game Saturday, October 1, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Illinois beat Wisconsin 34-10.

Following a brutal loss to Iowa, the Wisconsin football program will turn the page to a matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Badgers are looking to rebound, but it could be difficult without Tanner Mordecai, who is out for the foreseeable future with an injury to his throwing hand.

Illinois is on a backslide after a standout 2022 season. Led by former UW head coach Bret Bielema, the Fighting Illini are 3-4 on the season and searching for their identity. With middle-of-the-road play all season long from Illinois, the opportunity is there for Wisconsin to pick up a win and get back on track.

Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s conference clash.

How Will the New Wisconsin Football QB1 Braedyn Locke Fare?

There isn’t a bigger storyline heading into this matchup than Tanner Mordecai’s injury. The sixth-year senior’s status is up in the air for the remainder of the 2023 season, causing redshirt freshman Braedyn Locke to be thrust into the spotlight.

Locke made an appearance during the matchup against Georgia Southern, where he completed one pass for eight yards. Against Iowa, the former Mississippi State transfer stepped in and logged 15 completions on 30 attempts for 122 yards and an interception. With the small sample size, it’s tough to know exactly what UW has in the redshirt freshman, but the tools are there.

During his high school years, Locke made a name for himself with his decision-making, pass accuracy, and arm strength. Those are certainly great traits to have, but his weakness lies in his mobility, an area where Mordecai stood out. From a scheme perspective, that could bring some trouble for Wisconsin. Mordecai consistently made plays with his legs when he got into trouble, which is crucial in a scheme like Phil Longo’s. It remains to be seen if the lack of mobility will be a detriment to Locke’s game, but it will undoubtedly be something worth watching.

How Will the Badgers Secondary Fare Against Illinois’ Passing Attack?

The Fighting Illini have leaned heavily on the passing game in their first seven matchups. Illinois QB Luke Altmyer has logged 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine interceptions while completing 63.3 percent of his pass attempts thus far. Without a dynamic rushing attack, Illinois will be airing it out early and often in this matchup.

Altmyer has shown that he is prone to mistakes. As mentioned, the sophomore signal-caller has thrown nine interceptions on the year, which stems from his tendency to force throws and make poor reads. The Fighting Illini have a turnover differential of -6 on the season, largely thanks to the sophomore QB being turnover-prone. Wisconsin’s secondary will be tested often due to the sheer amount of attempts Altmyer will have, but if he continues to make the same mistakes, UW will be in a good spot to come away with a win.

After a game where Wisconsin was gashed on the ground, seeing the secondary get some action will be a welcome sight. Now it’s just a matter of how effectively they can slow the Illini’s quarterback and pass catchers.

Can Wisconsin Football Get the Ground Game Going Early?

The Illinois defense has taken a huge step back from the 2022 season, but there isn’t an area that’s more on a backslide than the defense. After having one of the nation’s standout defenses, Illinois has tumbled into an average to below-average defense.

The Fighting Illini’s defense weakest area is its run defense by a considerable margin. According to, Illinois has the No. 100 rushing defense in the nation, allowing an average of 164.1 yards per game on the ground and 11 total rushing touchdowns on the season. 

If Wisconsin is going to come away with a win here, leaning on the duo of Braelon Allen and Jackson Acker will be paramount. Though the rushing attack hasn’t been as impressive as I thought it would be heading into the season, this matchup should be viewed as a “get right” game for the Wisconsin football program’s rushing attack.

The Badgers and the Fighting Illini will go toe-to-toe on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 PM CST.

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Jake Maier is the managing editor and publisher at He has provided coaching and editorial support to numerous writers in his role, contributing significantly to the platform's growth. His expertise extends to Wisconsin Badgers football, basketball, and recruiting coverage. Jake's previous bylines can be found at Fansided and Wisconsin Sports Heroics.