Illinois is playing inspired football, and Penn State is loving every minute of it.
An Illinois upset of Wisconsin in Champaign would give Penn State the chance to clinch the Leaders division later today against Ohio State in Columbus. The Illini are halfway there after an impressive first 30 minutes. Embattled Illinois coach Ron Zook promised changes, and his team has looked different today.
After failing to score a single point in the first half of its past four games, all losses, the Illini twice reached the end zone behind a resurgent offense. Coordinator Paul Petrino moved from the press box to the field, and he's pulling the right strings as Illinois racked up 224 yards and 15 first downs in the half to just five for Wisconsin. Petrino has used two quarterbacks (Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole), and both have had tremendous success, combining to complete 17 of 19 passes for 113 yards. Freshman Donovonn Young has two touchdown runs for the Illini.
Illinois could have had more points late in the half but an offensive pass interference penalty negated a touchdown.
Wisconsin knows a thing or two about special teams miscues in big games, but the Badgers benefited from one late in the first half after stuffing Illinois deep in its own territory. Punter Justin DuVernois fumbled a snap, essentially handing Wisconsin a touchdown, which Montee Ball converted from 1-yard out. Ball's score gives the Badgers a bit of a boost heading into the break, while Illinois' kicking-game struggles continue.
For the most part, Wisconsin looked like a different team. Russell Wilson committed an uncharacteristic turnover in Illinois and the Badgers haven't established any sort of rhythm on offense. They have only five first downs, 99 total yards and have converted just 1 of 4 third-down opportunities. Wisconsin has held the ball for just 12:14 and hasn't generated any consistent run game. Whether they miss center Peter Konz or simply can't crank it up on the road like they do at home, it has been ugly for Bret Bielema's crew.