CHAMPAIGN — Illinois had three yards of total offense at the end of the first quarter Saturday against Wisconsin.
It hardly got any better.
The Badgers stymied the Illini all game to pull off a shutout 24-0 victory and spoil coach Bret Bielema's reunion with his former program. Bielema was the head coach at Wisconsin from 2006-2012, leading the team to three straight Big Ten titles from 2010-12.
Current Badgers coach Paul Chryst was Bielema's offensive coordinator for six of his seven seasons in Madison, but Bielema said he was't interested in reminiscing after his team went scoreless.
"Just a postgame handshake," Bielema said of his interaction with Chryst on Saturday. "But again, like I told our players at the beginning of the week. This week wasn't about Bret Bielema's past. It's about Illinois' future, and I feel that now more than ever. I get it, I know it's a nice story line, but those are people from my past that I have a great relationship with that have nothing to do with the moment we're in now. We're just two teams competing in the Big Ten West."
Nearly a decade since Bielema left Wisconsin, the Badgers were able to pick up their first conference win of the year against his new program. They entered Saturday's game with the No. 1 run defense in the country and lived up to their billing at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois totaled six rushes for 21 yards in the first half, and the team was even more bleak through the air. Starting quarterback Brandon Peters was 3-of-7 passing for 12 yards before leaving the game in the second quarter with an injury. He was ruled out for the rest of the contest by the team's medical staff, according to Bielema.
Backup quarterback Art Sitkowski, who started twice this season due to another Peters injury, struggled as well. The Rutgers transfer was 0-of-12 passing before his first completion. He finished the game 8-of-27 passing for 55 yards.
"Obviously I was excited to go in there," Sitkowski said. "I gotta do a better job when I'm out there. Gotta execute a little better and gotta give my team a chance to win. So I gotta do a better job, go back and learn from this and get through this (upcoming bye week) and get ready for (the) next week."
Wisconsin racked up 491 yards of total offense compared to 93 for the Illini.
Running Chase Brown, who had the fourth-most rushing yards in a single game (257) in Illinois history last week, did not receive a carry until his team's third drive of the game. The Illini started the day with six pass plays that resulted in back-to-back three-and-outs.
Illinois' longest play of the day was a 23-yard run by Brown in the second quarter, which was nearly all of the team's season-low 26 rushing yards.
"They're a very, very good, effective run defense, and we knew to get that done we were gonna have to do some unconventional things to try and get the game going," Bielema said. "We were just never able to get ahead of the chains, and obviously third down was abysmal."
The Illini were 1-of-12 on third-down attempts, while the Badgers were 7-of-13.
Illinois' Kerby Joseph picked off Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz in the second quarter for his third interception of the season. The fourth-year safety also recovered a forced fumble by linebacker Tarique Barnes in the third quarter.
Despite Joseph's big plays, the Badgers still imposed their will at the line of scrimmage and rushed for a season-high 391 yards on 61 carries.
Running backs Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen each scored one touchdown and rushed for 145 yards and 131 yards, respectively. Allen put the game out of reach with a 23-yard TD run with a minute left in the third quarter.
A few plays later, Sitkowski finally completed his first pass of the game, an eight-yarder to wide receiver Isaiah Williams.
"Before we get into the schematics of throwing and catching, we weren't protecting our quarterback, got people under duress," Bielema said. "Obviously BP got hit, and I don't know of his status yet, but I put Art in there, and I know he was hit a couple times, too. I think it all starts with our protection before we can even get to the point of schematics."
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