Posted on October 20, 2019, by Travis Pulver
The Wisconsin Badgers have been on the outside looking in of the college football playoffs before. But heading into Saturday’s contest against Illinois, this season was shaping up to be the one. Their defense had only allowed 29 points and had recorded four shutouts so far this season. They have a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender at running back in Jonathan Thomas.
Everything was trending in Wisconsin’s favor. They just had to get past a bad Illinois team before facing the only real roadblock to the playoffs, Ohio State, next weekend.
But when you overlook an opponent in what was supposed to be an easy game, bad things can happen—and bad things did happen Saturday afternoon for the Wisconsin Badgers.
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When they scored a touchdown on the opening drive, all was right in the world. Jonathan Taylor made history on the first carry of the game, a 16-yard run, by becoming just the third player in FBS history to reach 5,000 career rushing yards as a junior.
When the Badgers extended the lead to ten points with a field goal early in the second, things seemed to be just fine. But then the Badgers started making mistakes and just didn’t stop making them. A fumble led to an Illinois touchdown in the second quarter.
Wisconsin was able to tack on another field goal before the half to make the score 13-7 at the break.
While they didn’t play their best in the second half, the Badgers were still in a position to win up by nine, 23-14, in the fourth quarter. But then a rare Jonathan Taylor fumble killed one potential scoring drive and led to an Illinois touchdown.
A Jack Coan interception on Wisconsin’s next possession gave Illinois a chance to win it—and as time expired, James McCourt did just that with a 39-yard field goal.
The Badgers had been favored by 30.5 points over Illinois but lost, 24-34.
“I don’t think we played complementary football,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said after the game, via ESPN. “Your last two drives end in turnovers and giving them a chance. It’s always hard to win on the road, and you make it that much harder.”
At 6-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play, the Badgers are not out of the national title picture or the college football playoff race. But the road is now going to become much tougher and they no longer control their own fate.
To make it in now, they must beat Ohio State next week (the Buckeyes have opened as nine-point favorites), and then run the table. When they beat Minnesota in their regular-season finale, they will earn a trip to the Big Ten Championship where they will likely meet Ohio State again.
Beating the Buckeyes once would be incredible, but twice? If they do, it would be legendary and almost certainly get them into the playoffs for the first time in school history. Then again, with Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, and Penn State till undefeated, they are going to need more than a little help.