When Illinois Says Wisconsin, They’ve Said It All…As In, It’s All Over

Illinois may be ready to make a play for supremacy of the Western Division of the Big Ten Conference after a 34-10 win at Wisconsin.

Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer

October 1, 2022

MADISON, Wis. --- For the first time since 2002, Illinois football is finally able to say Wisconsin to say it all. As in it’s all over.

Over is the near two decades of bullying by the Western Division program directly up north. Over is the idea that Wisconsin plays smart and Illinois plays dumb. The final scoreboard reading “Illinois 34, Wisconsin 10” didn’t adequately describe what a gift this was by the favored home team. Wisconsin couldn’t get out of its own way Saturday with 10 penalties for 77 yards, three turnovers and allowing an Illinois team seemingly not yet ready to take the cloak of invincibility from the Badgers every possible do-over known to mankind. Wisconsin was the team whose quarterback suddenly couldn’t find an open receiver. Wisconsin players and coaches were the ones desperately looking for the officials to bail them out of situations.

When Illinois owned every bit of momentum in this game following Barry Lunney Jr.’s offense dog-walking the football 75 yards for a touchdown, what did the big bad Wisconsin do? They muffed the kickoff and gave Illinois three points before running an offensive play in the second half.

Don’t misunderstand any of what happened in Madison folks. This is sports, where the story typically doesn’t end triumphantly for the plucky underdog with long odds. The final line in sports is Goliath picking what’s left of David’s crushed body underneath the sole of his right boot. And that’s what happened today - except Illinois was Goliath. More accurately, this was the kid in middle school who finally had enough of their lunch money being taken. Bret Bielema is not to be bullied. He is the bully.

Over is the idea that Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is the best defensive coordinator in the conference and deserves to be on Power Five Conference head coaching candidate lists (NOTE: Leonhard is still very good but that title belt is coming back on the plane to Champaign with Ryan Walters). Two Walters blitzes in the first half panicked Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz to do what Graham Mertz has done in the last three years - make mistakes. Mertz’s two interceptions were turned into all of the Illini’s 14 first-half points. Over is the 20-year losing streak to Wisconsin at Camp Randall where Illinois has experienced nothing but it’s own red hell of misery. Bielema is now 1-1 against Wisconsin and undefeated in Madison when wearing orange and blue. On the first day of October in the year of Lord 2022, Illinois took one of Wisconsin’s previous own and physically, mentally and emotionally took the Badgers’ place of relevance in the Big Ten Conference. Over is the idea that Illinois’ offense can’t hang with league foes. Last year Illinois gained 93 total yards. In this 180-degree turn of a matchup, Illinois had that total in its first two scoring drives - something Tony Petersen’s scheme failed to do versus Leonhard’s unit in Champaign. Tommy DeVito and his New Jersey ties had no sympathy for the red-faced capacity crowd being mad at the officials, its quarterback and likely the head coach on its home sideline. Illinois’ version of Tony Soprano decided that Saturday that Wisconsin can’t be in the Big Ten’s social club of dominance no more, that much we do know. This 2022 version of the Badgers needed to be whacked and DeVito, who finished with 167 passing yards and 3 total touchdowns, was poised enough to pull off this act in the way you’d expect from a 24-year-old quarterback.

Over is the idea that Illinois can’t possibly, for the first time in school history, represent the Western Division in Indianapolis in a few months for the Big Ten Championship Game.

Bielema correctly said after the 31-0 victory over Chattanooga nine days ago that a lot of firsts are happening for this Illinois program but Saturday represented a last for this Illini squad - as in last call for Wisconsin’s supremacy. They do have to go home but they can’t stay in that spot. Final round of beverages on the tab of the head football coach as he pours one out for his former employer…on second thought, what am I thinking? Bielema would never waste good, cold beer.

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