BadgersIlliniUFR

Illinois' Luke Zardzin (42) celebrates recovering a Wisconsin fumble with defensive back Peyton Vining (16) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Kayla Wolf)

The Wisconsin Badgers will want to cover the mirrors in their training facilities because they might not like what they see in the reflection.

The bullies have become the bullied.

In the past, Wisconsin would beat up the Big Ten lesser-lights, such as, oh, Illinois. But this is the present and Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium it was the Illini delivering the punches and the Badgers being knocked out.

A week after suffering a loss at Ohio State in which it was thoroughly outclassed in every aspect, Wisconsin was embarrassed at home by Illinois 34-10, the game effectively over in the third quarter – much like the Badgers have done to numerous opponents over the years.

It was Illinois’ first win at Camp Randall Stadium in 20 years – another sure sign this year is different, in a bad way – and orchestrated by former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, surely adding to some fans’ discomfort.

Things started out well enough, Wisconsin getting a good return on the opening kick then going 53 yards on seven plays for a touchdown and forcing a punt on Illinois’ first possession. It didn’t go downhill from there; it went off a cliff.

Illinois’ defense toughened up. The Badgers never could get the ground game going. Wisconsin rushed for all of two yards, which includes sacks. Chez Mellusi was the leading rusher with 16 yards and also had the longest rush – five yards. It marked just the fourth time since 2000 in which the Badgers were held below 10 yards rushing and the first since 2015.

Quarterback Graham Mertz started out hot, connecting on his first four passes and seven of his next eight. But he’d misfire on eight of his next nine attempts – finishing 17-of-32 for 206 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions -- and was sacked five times.

Illinois got three short touchdown runs by quarterback Tommy DeVito and put the nail in the coffin on Chase Brown’s 49-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the longest rush allowed by Wisconsin this season by 24 yards.

The last team to do that against the Badgers? Alabama in 2015.

The Illini are no Bama. It’s just that Wisconsin is making teams look that way.

Hard to imagine how things can get worse for the Badgers, especially after the last two weeks. Unfortunately we have seven more games to find out.

Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Let’s face it. There wasn’t much going Wisconsin’s way in this one. So, yes, it’s time to give this to the punter. Andy Vujnovich averaged 53.5 yards on his four punts, with three over 50 yards and two ending up inside the 20-yard line. Also, Vujnovich reached 100 punts at Wisconsin which qualifies him for the school’s all-time leaders – and he now holds the record for best punting average in Wisconsin history.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME

Isaac Guerendo was staring at this or MVP honors, after all he had a nice kick return and scored Wisconsin’s only touchdown. But he ended up averaging just 21 yards per return, later fumbled one which ended up in Illinois getting three points and left with an injury. Speaking of injuries, Jack Eschenbach had to step up with Clay Cundiff already injured (and out for the season) and Hayden Rucci going down during the game. He finished with five receptions on five targets for 32 yards. The senior entered the game with seven career receptions, including two for 33 yards this season.

THAT MOMENT

With about five minutes elapsed in the second quarter, Wisconsin led 10-7 but had a third-and-8 on its own 36. Mertz got pressured, moved left and forced a pass to Skyler Bell. Except his throw was nowhere near Bell and was intercepted by Tahveon Nicholson at the UW 47. Given decent field position, Illinois went down the field (helped by a couple pass interference calls) and scored to go up 14-10. Wisconsin never recovered. The Badgers’ next five drives: Four three-and-outs and turnover on downs after four plays.

THIS NUMBER

Braelon Allen entered the game averaging 18.3 carries and 124.3 yards per game. Against Illinois he finished with two yards on eight carries. After the first quarter he had two rushes – the same number as Graham Mertz (not counting sacks). Mellusi had five carries over the same span. Yes, Wisconsin had nothing going on the ground. He also had no targets. Maybe it’s a good idea to get your best player touches?

THEY SAID IT

"They beat us today. ... No one wants to be where we're at, yet I told the team there's one response, and that's us continuing to come together. And we've got to make sure — in my opinion, we've got to play better football, and we've got to get to where you're playing one team, the opponent. I thought there was enough times, certainly three turnovers, and all three end up being big plays, giving them good field position. That makes it harder." -- head coach Paul Chryst

"To give ourselves a chance to win, we've got to be playing better certainly offensively. There's no doubt about it. You've got to score points to win, and we haven't been scoring enough, right? That's obvious. ... There are things where we didn't run the ball well today. We had a good first drive, and that was about it. Really when you do convert on third downs — we weren't very good on third down. When you convert on third down, now you've got more offense. So we just haven't been putting things together. That's something that, if we're going to be — we need to be better, right? We've got to give our team a chance to win. You've got to play better offensively. I think we're all part of the solution." -- Chryst

"We definitely take it personally. This program was built on physicality.” -- linebacker C.J. Goetz

"Something needs to change because that's not us. That's not the Wisconsin football we all know. That’s not the defense we all know. So, what’s off? I don’t know. We need to look ourselves in the mirror and we need to figure it out." -- safety John Torchio

"I think that’s the biggest thing is Wisconsin football doesn’t beat themselves. We’ve done that the last couple games." -- wide receiver Chimere Dike

WHAT'S NEXT

Maybe this is good news for Wisconsin – up next is a date with Northwestern, which is 1-4 and losers of four in a row (including one to FCS Southern Illinois). The Wildcats fell 17-7 at Penn State in their latest defeat, turning the ball over three times – although the Nittany Lions had five. The bad news, however, is the Badgers haven’t fared well in Evanston lately, losing three of the past four matchups there.