Illinois allows late hit
MADISON, Wis. – Illinois' dimly lit candle flickered and brightened briefly before being snuffed out at midgame in Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Seeing the UI score on Steve Havard's 17-yard dash with 2:12 showing in the half, 79,000-plus Badger fans had one thought as the scoreboard read 14-7:
Could Wisconsin retaliate before intermission?
Every UI foe except Washington State had scored last before the break against Illinois. Louisville did it with a punt return. Iowa did it with a Hail Mary pass. Penn State did it with multiple TD tosses to Joe Jurevicius.
The Badgers wasted no time Saturday. Ron Dayne barged for 11 yards before safety Asim Pleas hauled him down. Quarterback Mike Samuel caught the defense napping with a 23-yard spurt, Pleas again making the stop. With the clock nearing the minute mark, the Badgers reached the UI 35, still out of field goal range against the wind.
That's when Pleas blitzed on first down and had Samuel in his sights.
"I didn't break down. I just tried to run right through him," Pleas said. "I think he saw me out of the corner of his eye. He sidestepped and I didn't wrap him up. If I had the chance again, I'm sure I would make that tackle."
Free to take a second look, Samuel found walk-on tight end Eric Grams for a 16-yard completion. Two plays later, Samuel lofted over Illini Trevor Starghill to Donald Hayes for the touchdown.
If that wasn't a back-breaker, Dayne's 66-yard burst after halftime certainly was.
"Dayne ran a counter against a line slant, and he hit a seam," said Pleas, referring to Dayne's cutback through a big hole left by slanting defensive tackles. With the secondary in man coverage, the defenders were spread wide when Dayne dashed up the middle.
"The outcome of this game didn't show all our preparation and our discipline," Pleas said. "If you're a true champion, you have to fight through this adversity, regardless of the record.
"As for Dayne, any tackle is a good tackle against that kind of runner. I made up my mind that when I got my chance, I wouldn't dive or shy away from him. The key to stopping big backs is rallying to the ball with 11 bodies and 11 helmets. Those good backs will try to hurt you."
Pleas said the secondary was better Saturday, getting one interception (by Pleas) and giving up one touchdown pass.
But, like Penn State, the Badgers put an early cap on their passing game. They ran 58 times and passed just 15, completing nine. Only three of those completions came after halftime.