At 12-31 in his fourth season at Illinois, Lovie Smith was in huge need of a big win. He got it, and then some, this afternoon, with Wisconsin in town.
The Badgers had looked like one of the best teams in all of college football entering this week. The defense has four shutouts under its belt, and hadn't surrendered more than 15 points in a game (by Northwestern, one of the worst offenses in the Power Five, of all teams).
Most of today's game looked like it would be an undramatic if less-than-inspiring road win for the Badgers. They led 20-7 late in the third quarter, with Collin Larsh lined up for a very makeable 37-yard field goal that would have put them up 23-7.
He wound up missing it. That play sparked a comeback by the Fighting Illini.
Reggie Corbin ran for a 43-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession, the cut Wisconsin's lead to 20-14. The Badgers hit a field goal to answer, but on its next drive, Jonathan Taylor fumbled it away. Four plays later, Brandon Peters found Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 29-yard touchdown.
The turnover issues continued to Wisconsin, with Jack Coan getting picked at midfield by Tony Adams, up 23-21. Illinois drove the ball into field goal range, and James McCourt delivered from 39 yards out to end the game, and seal a 24-23 comeback win for the Illini.
After the game, Illinois rubbed some salt in the wounds of the Badgers, playing "Jump Around" in Memorial Stadium as the home fans celebrated.
The win is easily the biggest of Lovie Smith's tenure at Illinois, and one he likely needed. The Fighting Illini have looked better this season, but wins hadn't been coming. The team suffered a tough loss to Eastern Michigan in non-conference play, and fell by four to Nebraska one game later. Minnesota blew them out, and despite a similar comeback last week, Michigan handled them as well. Time will tell if this win over a College Football Playoff contender will kickstart Smith's program, but for at least a week, Illini fans are going to be on cloud nine. Illinois travels to Purdue next week to try and make it two in a row. Wisconsin is at Ohio State, a game that may still be a preview of the Big Ten title game, but definitely has some air taken out of it. [
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) October 19, 2019