MADISON, Wis. – Mop-up time at Wisconsin means Scott Kavanagh at quarterback.
Illinois starter Tim Lavery watched his high school rival go in midway through the fourth quarter. The two played against each other in Naperville. Lavery usually won.
But Kavanagh sat on the winning side Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium as the Badgers defeated Illinois 31-7. His contribution: 0 yards. He hit 1 of 2 passes for 7. He was sacked twice for minus-7.
By the time Kavanagh took the field, Lavery already had thrown 28 passes.
Lavery could have been in Kavanagh's spot. The Badgers recruited both players. The first to accept was going to get a scholarship.
But Lavery wanted to play baseball and Wisconsin had shut down its program years ago. So much for the Badgers.
In his first year as a starter, Lavery plays for a team that is 0-6 and already eliminated from the postseason. In his second year as a backup, Kavanagh plays for a 6-1 team on its way to a second consecutive bowl game.
So, given a choice, would Lavery trade places with Kavanagh?
"I ask myself that question a lot," Lavery said. "I want to play. The wins will come as we start growing older as a team. I like my situation better."
Happy with his status, yes. Happy with his play, no.
"I know I can play a lot better than that," Lavery said. "It's frustrating. A lot of people say, 'He's a freshman, give him time.' To heck with that. That stuff's over with."
Lavery completed 11 of 31 passes for 136 yards and two interceptions. For the third consecutive game, he failed to hit 50 percent of his passes.
"I don't think he played as well as he has played," UI coach Ron Turner said. "The passing game in general was not very good."
Dropped passes again hurt Lavery. It is a problem that has plagued the Illini all season.
"Catching the football is just a matter of confidence," Turner said. "Our guys aren't playing with a lot of confidence right now at the receiver position.
"You can't catch more balls in practice than we do. We can't throw them more. We can't work on it anymore than we do, especially with the 20-hour rule. We could take maybe the whole 20 hours and just catch balls. I don't know if that would make a difference."
A dropped pass by George McDonald-Ashford late in the third quarter cost Lavery a touchdown.
Lavery lofted the pass to the corner of the end zone. McDonald-Ashford got behind Wisconsin cornerback LaMar Campbell.
"He should have made the catch," Turner said. "Tim read it well, made a nice throw, gave George a chance to make the catch. That's all you can do as a quarterback. At some point, we need to start bringing those in."
Lavery wasn't about to blame the receivers.
"I didn't make throws when I could," Lavery said. "I think it starts with the quarterback."
Lavery did have two long gains. He hit McDonald-Ashford for 46 yards in the second quarter, setting up Illinois' lone score. In the second half, he scrambled for 32 yards.
"I made a big play, but you've got to make the little throws, too," Lavery said. "I just didn't do that today."
Lavery can't explain his rough day. He practiced well all week, throwing crisp pass after crisp pass.
"I came out with good focus," Lavery said.
While Kavanagh isn't a role model for Lavery, Wisconsin starter Mike Samuel might be.
The junior passed and scrambled for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
Last year, Samuel was in the same boat as Lavery, struggling in early games. He figured Wisconsin's offense out midway through the year and led the team to a Copper Bowl win.
"'Experience is going to help," Lavery said.
Lavery has five games of experience left this season. He doesn't plan to waste any.
"We're going to go in and try to win every single game," Lavery said.