MADISON (WCIA) — Illinois running back Mike Epstein fumbled the second offensive play of the game, setting the tone for the Illini, who struggled to get their offense going all night, not scoring a point. The play set the tone for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz matched a program record, with 17-straight completions, throwing five touchdown passes for 248 yards to lead the Badgers to a 45-7 win in the Big Ten opener. Illini quarterback Brandon Peters was 8-for-19, throwing for just 87 yards. One of his biggest targets, Josh Imatorbhebhe, caught only three passes.
Illini sophomore Tarique Barnes stepped up big time in Madison, forcing a turnover in the second quarter. He recovered the fumble and scored on the play in what ended up being the only Illini touchdown of the game. Barnes was thrown into the fire after senior captain Jake Hansen left early in the first half with an injury. Meanwhile, Milo Eifler had to sit out the first half due to a targeting penalty in last season’s bowl game. Defensively, the Illini allowed the Badgers to put up 430 yards.
While Peters struggled to get the ball in the air, the senior led the Illini rushing attack with 75 yards. The Illini had just eight first downs, compared to the Badgers’ 23.
The Illini will host Purdue for their home opener on Saturday, October 31st. Kickoff is at 11 a.m.