12:00 PM ET, October 28, 2006
Camp Randall Stadium, MADISON, WI
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Turnovers were turning into touchdowns, a freshman quarterback was running wild and star running back P.J. Hill was sitting out with a sore neck.
Illinois had put No. 17 Wisconsin right where Badgers coach Bret Bielema worried they might -- down by two touchdowns at halftime and stunned that they could be losing to the Big Ten's welcome mat at home.
But Wisconsin (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) shut off Illinois' juice in the second half, and found some offensive energy of their own to score 20 unanswered points for a 30-24 victory at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
"It's not how they started, it's how they finished, and I can't give enough credit to what they did," Bielema said.
All week, Bielema warned his players that Illinois (2-7, 1-4) was more dangerous than its record would indicate -- and those concerns proved true when the Illini and freshman quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams took a 21-3 lead in the second quarter.
"They had the energy and excitement, and coach (Ron) Zook's got them playing hard," Bielema said. "But they haven't gotten over that hump, and I didn't want to have their momentum start today."
John Stocco helped Illinois out by throwing an interception and losing a fumble in the first half, leading to two touchdowns.
"We pretty much handed everything to them," Stocco said. "So when we got to halftime, we didn't panic. We knew what we had to do."
The Badgers' second-half rally came largely without Hill, who sat out most of the second half after sustaining what Bielema described as a nerve injury in his neck in the first quarter.
The redshirt freshman and Big Ten's leading rusher gained 1,199 yards on 202 carries in the Badgers' first eight games but was held to 50 yards on 12 carries Saturday.
Wisconsin trailed by four points early in fourth quarter when tight end Andy Crooks fell on his fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Badgers ahead 27-24 with 14:50 remaining.
Crooks originally was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but was awarded a touchdown on a replay review.
The Badgers defense, meanwhile, made Williams look more like a true freshman in the second half.
"We knew we weren't going the whole season beating everyone by 40 points," senior safety Joe Stellmacher said. "We got their best effort and we didn't play particularly well, especially in that first half."
Williams took over as the Illini's starter in a loss to Iowa Sept. 23, and he helped upset Michigan State in his second start. He gained 173 combined yards in Zook's spread offense in the first half, but the Illini gained only 80 total yards in the second.
Still, Williams and the Illini were able to drive to their own 47 in the final minute, but Badgers defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy sacked Williams to end the game.
"It's a hurting feeling, but a feeling of joy and confidence, because we can see down the road we'll be a good team," Williams said.
Badgers linebacker Mark Zalewski intercepted a pass by Williams on Illinois' first possession of the third quarter. Stocco completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Luke Swan to cut the Illinois lead to 24-17.
"We knew what we had to do," Swan said. "Once it was halftime, we understood that this was our time to go."
On Illinois' next possession, Williams dropped back on third-and-1 at the Illinois 41 -- but his lob pass floated over the head of running back E.B. Halsey, who was running uncovered in the Wisconsin secondary.
"That's a throw I can make 100 percent of the time," Williams said. "I just got caught up in the moment."
Zook said Williams hit the throw consistently in practice last week.
"We didn't get conservative. We went out there for the win," Zook said.
Wisconsin drove to the Illinois 8 on its next possession. But the Illini defense held the Badgers to a 21-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff, cutting the Illinois lead to 24-20 with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Illinois went three-and-out on its next possession, and a 26-yard punt by Illinois' Kyle Yelton gave the ball to the Badgers at their own 49. Stocco found Swan on a 19-yard pass to the Illinois 31, and the Badgers scored four plays later to take a 27-24 lead.
After another shaky punt by Yelton out of the Illinois end zone, the Badgers drove for a 33-yard field goal by Mehlhaff to take a 30-24 lead.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Wisconsin sacked Illinois QB Juice Williams on the last play of the game.
Gameball goes to... John Stocco. After a slow first half, the Badgers QB rallied his squad despite playing without star running back P.J. Hill.
Stat of the game... 20. The Badgers scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to complete the comeback.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||9-19||4-15|
|4th Down Conversions||1-2||2-2|
|TD||3:34||TRAVON BELLAMY 41 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JASON REDA KICK)||7||0|
|FG||14:57||TAYLOR MEHLHAFF 21 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 8 yards.
|TD||10:42||PIERRE THOMAS JR. 2 YD PASS FROM JUICE WILLIAMS (JASON REDA KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||5:45||PIERRE THOMAS JR. 1 YD RUN (JASON REDA KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 24 yards.
|TD||1:44||LANCE SMITH 1 YD RUN (TAYLOR MEHLHAFF KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 76 yards.
|FG||0:08||JASON REDA 20 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 69 yards.
|TD||10:36||LUKE SWAN 17 YD PASS FROM JOHN STOCCO (TAYLOR MEHLHAFF KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 44 yards.
|FG||3:57||TAYLOR MEHLHAFF 21 YD FG|
Drive info: 9 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||14:50||ANDY CROOKS 1 YD PASS FROM JOHN STOCCO (TAYLOR MEHLHAFF KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 51 yards.
|FG||4:27||TAYLOR MEHLHAFF 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 30 yards.