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CHAMPAIGN — It is probably true that your weekend pizza wouldn’t taste quite the same if you watched the sausage being made.

But most of the 40,168 homecoming fans — the Illini supporters, that is — bordered on indigestion Saturday afternoon while they watched Wisconsin’s huskies make porous sausage of the Illinois offensive and defensive lines.

Illinois’ 24-0 loss to the visiting Badgers was particularly unsettling on a warm day that started with so much optimism.

First, Brad Underwood’s open basketball practice lifted the spirits of those in attendance at State Farm Center.

Then, tailgaters and Grange Grove attendees swarmed the premises, many of them recalling the 24-23 Illini triumph on Wisconsin’s last football visit here in 2019.

But then came the kickoff. And if you thought Illinois might stack up semi-comparably with the Badgers, forget it.

A Wisconsin team that lost to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan choked the Illini breathless, and the stadium started emptying out after halftime ... yet another blow to the troubled program.

The ugly truthHere’s the nutshell:

  • In the first three quarters, Illinois made four first downs, three on major Badger penalties.
  • Brandon Peters was harassed on virtually every pass attempt as the Illinois blocking unit featuring three super-seniors could neither protect him nor create running lanes for last week’s standout against Charlotte, Chase Brown.
  • Peters left in the second quarter with an apparent injury, and Art Sitkowski entered to extend a streak of 14 consecutive incomplete passes, the streak of misfires ending on the last play of the third quarter.
  • Wisconsin rushed for 25 first downs. Illinois rushed for one. A late Illini march netted four first downs, bringing the team’s total yards to 93 against Wisconsin’s 491. The fourth quarter was embarrassingly similar to a “running clock.”
  • The Illini had no penalties assessed and made no turnovers. Wisconsin had two turnovers and was called for nine penalties amounting to 101 yards, that number slightly more than Illinois’ total offense. There’s no telling what the score would have been if the Badgers had avoided the kind of mistakes that have plagued them all season.

Left wondering after another lossWith a week off before the trip to Penn State — a 23-20 loser at Iowa on Saturday evening — Bret Bielema faces yet-another agonizing reappraisal.

The super-seniors who built hopes with their return, didn’t stack up physically with the Badgers. Four of the top-five Illini tacklers were non-seniors, including alert playmaker Kerby Joseph who combined for nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Offensively, it can only be assumed, without intensive video study, that no one stood out.

So Bielema hits the recruiting trail on his off week with the knowledge that he needs help at virtually every position. And we are all left to wonder what it takes — or how long it takes — to build a program that features the physical athleticism that Wisconsin has demonstrated over a 30-year period.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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