Defense saves the day in Illini upset of Wisconsin


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — When the Illini needed a big play on Saturday it was often the defense that came up with it. Illinois forced three turnovers and scored 17 points off those turnovers in the 24-23 win.

On Sunday Jake Hansen was named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week. Hansen had 11 tackles, two forced fumbles and one sack in the win over the Badgers.

Dele Harding also had a monster game with 16 tackles, he’s now averaging 12.1 tackles per game which leads the Big Ten.

The biggest play of the game though was made by freshman Devon Witherspoon. After he got beat on a slant across the middle, Witherspoon tracked down the receiver and made the tackles inside the five yard line. The Illini would keep the Badgers out of the endzone, only allowing a field goal to make it 23-14 instead of 27-14.

Lovie Smith said after the game it was a collective effort by the defense to keep the Badgers at bay.

“Everybody’s involved. There’s no such thing as a free safety, everybody has to make a tackle. It takes the front of course, they played well,” Smith said. “Yes, all of them. Inside guys, our ends played well after Wole went down. Linebackers have been pretty solid throughout the year, especially Jake Hansen and Dele Harding. But it came down to the secondary having to make a lot of tackles. What has hurt us in the past are big plays going the distance, we didn’t do that, we didn’t give those up today.”

“I think we played physical and we matched their physicality and I think it showed,” Hansen said. “That’s really exciting.”

Illinois is at Purdue on Saturday.

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