Wisconsin will try to get back on track against Illinois on Saturday after suffering consecutive losses for just the fifth time in seven seasons under coach Paul Chryst.
The Badgers (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten) are off to their worst start since 1990 and are 5-8 over their last 13 games and 9-10 over their last 19 games.
Standing in the Badgers’ way is former coach Bret Bielema and an Illinois squad that has also stumbled this season.
Bielema, in his first year at Illinois (2-4, 1-2), understands the pressure and interest surrounding playing his old team. Chryst was an offensive coordinator on Bielema’s Wisconsin staffs from 2006-11.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and tight end Jake Ferguson are expected to play on Saturday. Both suffered chest injuries in the Michigan game and were initially listed as questionable for the Illinois game. Mertz and Ferguson connected on three of Mertz’ five touchdown passes in Wisconsin’s blowout of Illinois last season.
Illinois appears to be staying with Brandon Peters, despite some poor game decisions and accuracy problems. Backup Art Sitkowski is available should Peters falter.
Wisconsin ranks third in the nation and leads the Big Ten in total defense, allowing just 249 yards per game. The Badgers also rank seventh in the country allowing just 4.3 yards per play.
Illinois has held opponents to 20 points or fewer in three straight games for the first time since 2011, when it had a streak of four straight to start the season. The Illini have forced at least one turnover in each game and are averaging 2.5 sacks per game.
The Illini have given up 292.2 yards passing per game, which ranks 119th in FBS.
Illinois has been without two of its top defenders in linebacker Jake Hansen and cornerback Devon Witherspoon the past two games due to undisclosed injuries. Both are questionable for Saturday.
Illinois’ ground game is led by Chase Brown and true freshman Josh McCray.
Brown rushed for 257 yards against Charlotte last week and tied his career-high with two rushing touchdowns. His 257 yards were the fourth-most in a game in school history. McCray ran for a career-best 156 yards on 24 carries against Purdue on Sept. 25. The yardage was the most by a true freshman in college football in a road game this year.