The Fighting Illini are a team two years removed from their Big Ten title, but playing like they never left the basement. However, the energy around Memorial Stadium has not fizzled. Dusk drew over the sky for this early evening contest and the late day sun glinting off the columns around the stadium provided the perfect setting. Both bands marched in down the main drag of the campus offering a pregame battle by pounding out fight songs and marching in stellar cadence. Illinois’s tradition rich playing grounds were stoked for this conference opener.
Wisconsin entered Champaign on an upswing of momentum and looking to ride the wave until it crashes at a nice bowl location. Without star tailback, Anthony Davis, Wisconsin’s fundamental ground game seemed bound to suffer. However, Booker Stanley and Dwayne Smith have garnered a healthy reputation in Madison as phenomenal substitutes. Today would be Smith’s day to tear through the frail Illini defense. Coupled with the valiant play of quarterback Jim Sorgi, Wisconsin’s offense was exemplary jutting out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. Even with a few late scores by the Illini, the Badgers appeared to have the upper hand with a 21-10 halftime advantage.
The second half saw a resurgent Illinois squad looking to take back their home field. A good portion of the stadium was decked in red and causing most of the ruckus. The orange and blue reversed that trend with a field goal and touchdown that cut the lead to 28-20. Fireworks exploded with each Illini score sending the crowd into a deeper frenzy. On the ensuing drive, Sorgi tossed an errant pass that Illinois intercepted and returned for a score causing Memorial Stadium to nearly fall off its columns. But, the play was called back on a penalty and Wisconsin scored a few plays later. The home team was unable to recover from their mistake and fell to a determined Badger squad. However, Illinois showed why they are such a remarkable Big Ten team. The venue in Champaign accompanied by the rabid fans made for an exciting experience and lasting impression.