MADISON, Wis. – Looks like Brian Sheard needs to work on his Mike Samuel impersonation.
All week, Illinois quarterback Sheard mimicked the Wisconsin starter in practice. He ran the option. He tucked the ball under. He played keepaway with the Illini defense.
The Illini thought they had Samuel solved. They were wrong.
Samuel ran for one touchdown and threw for another in Wisconsin's 31-7 win over Illinois on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Samuel finished with 72 yards on 12 carries. At halftime, he was just 3 yards behind Wisconsin star tailback Ron Dayne.
The Illini have now lost 12 games in a row, the third longest streak in the country. It won't grow next Saturday. The team has the day off.
The Illini might need the rest after chasing Samuel all day. He broke four long runs, gaining 11, 11, 23 and 29 yards. These weren't John Elway-esque scrambles. They were designed option plays. Samuel picked himself as the ball carrier.
The options didn't surprise Illinois.
"We went into the game saying he was the best running, scrambling quarterback that we'd seen to this point," Illinois coach Ron Turner said. "He made some plays and really hurt us."
Playing against a running quarterback gave the disheveled Illini one more worry. It meant they couldn't load up against Dayne.
"It helps (Wisconsin) a ton," Illinois defensive end Fred Wakefield said. "I'm amazed he didn't run the option even more with weapons like that. He's a really mobile guy. I was really impressed."
"It keeps you honest," Illini linebacker Danny Clark said. "A lot of guys tend to lean toward the inside when you've got Dayne in the backfield."
Samuel caught Illinois leaning early in the game.
On its first drive, Wisconsin pounded the middle with 261-pound Dayne. The Badgers faced fourth and 1 at the Illinois 29. Everyone in the building expected another Dayne rumble. The coaches had a different idea.
Samuel rolled left and kept the ball. He raced untouched into the end zone.
Clark was in position to stop Samuel, but got blocked by fullback Cecil Martin.
"The pursuit was supposed to eat that play up," Clark said.
Instead, Samuel ate up the Illini.
"The coaches must have seen something," Samuel said.
They continued to see it. His 11-yard run later in the quarter set up another Wisconsin touchdown.
Illinois cut the lead to 14-7 late in the first half. Quarterback Tim Lavery set up the score with a 46-yard completion to George McDonald-Ashford. Lavery rolled left on the play and appeared to be on his way out of bounds. He stopped and threw before reaching the sideline, hitting a wide-open McDonald-Ashford.
At the Wisconsin 17, Illinois didn't gain a yard on consecutive plays.
Illini tailback Robert Holcombe carried for no gain on second down. He left for one play, with Steve Havard taking his place.
On third and 10, Lavery handed the ball to Havard, who streaked untouched into the end zone with 2:12 left in the half.
Taking over at its 20, Wisconsin looked willing to play it safe and run out the clock. Even after Dayne's 11-yard gain, the Badgers weren't exactly hurrying.
Another Samuel option changed Wisconsin's plan. The quarterback went toward the right sideline, found a hole and gained 23 yards. Illini Asim Pleas tripped Samuel, preventing a longer gain.
Pleas took another shot at Samuel later in the drive. On second and 10, Pleas came into the backfield untouched and hit Samuel high. Samuel bounced away, scrambled and found tight end Eric Grams for 16 yards.
"You've got to make that play," Turner said. "Give the quarterback some credit."
Samuel went for extra credit three plays later. On second down, he threw to Donald Hayes in the corner of the end zone. Hayes, with a 9-inch height advantage, grabbed the ball over Illini cornerback Trevor Starghill with 21 seconds left in the half.
"Trevor was all over him," Turner said. "... We can't make him any taller."
Dayne, who had a quiet 81 yards in the first half, broke the game open with a 66-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Dayne finished with 207 yards on 28 carries. In two games against Illinois, Dayne has 496 yards.
"We expected to control the running game much, much better than what we did," Turner said.
Wisconsin controlled Illinois running back Holcombe. His streak of four consecutive 100-yard games ended against the Badgers. Holcombe finished with 63 yards on 23 carries.
"He didn't have a chance," Turner said.