Illinois building a streak of its own

first_imgBIG TEN: Illini’s second straight win over top-25 team ends Wisconsin’s 14-game winning streak. By David Mercer THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Last weekend’s upset of a top-25 team wasn’t enough to get Illinois ranked. Maybe this one will be. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREChargers go winless in AFC West with season-ending loss in Kansas CityRashard Mendenhall and Juice Williams carried the surprising Illini to a 31-26 win over No. 5 Wisconsin on Saturday, ending the Badgers’ 14-game winning streak. A week ago, Illinois beat then-No. 21 Penn State, 27-20, the school’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2001. Mendenhall ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns, and Williams added another 92 yards rushing as Illinois improved to 5-1 overall. The Illini are off to a 3-0 start in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990, when they won a share of the conference title. None of it is a surprise to Illinois coach Ron Zook, who challenged Mendenhall before the season to lead the potent offense. “I said, `Rashard, if you have the kind of year we think you’re capable of having, and if you do the things the coaches are trying to get you to do, we have a chance to be pretty special,” Zook said. Zook’s resurrection of Illinois has mirrored his own. He was run out of Florida after three winning seasons, only to surface in Champaign in 2005. After winning only four of his first 23 games, and just one in the conference, he has Illinois talking Big Ten title. “With a team like us,” Mendenhall said, “we haven’t had too much success like this. (Now) we know we can play with anybody.” The Badgers (5-1, 2-1) hadn’t lost since Sept. 16, 2006, at Michigan. It was also only the second loss in 19 games for Coach Bret Bielema, who said the Illini played up to Wisconsin’s ranking. “I think it has to do with we’re ranked No. 5 in the country and everybody wants to talk about why we shouldn’t be,” he said. Whether that ranking was justified is another thing. The Badgers struggled to wins over UNLV, Iowa and Michigan State and were 21/2-point underdogs against the Illini. It looked like Illinois was the better team most of the way. Mendenhall, the Big Ten’s third-leading rusher at better than 122 yards a game, had 100 by halftime, and his two touchdowns carried Illinois to a 17-6 lead. “That guy’s got muscles,” Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said. “He’s just a hard runner.” The Illini didn’t pound the ball inside until late, relying instead on a no-huddle spread offense and the option. “We take pride in our running,” Mendenhall said. “With our scheme and the playmakers we have out there, it’s hard for the defense to focus on one person.” Although Williams passed and ran Illinois to the lead, it was the sophomore quarterback’s relief, Eddie McGee, who essentially sealed the win. For the second week in a row, Zook sent McGee in during the second half. Against Penn State, the redshirt freshman ripped off a 53-yard run to secure the win. This time, he scored on a 5-yard keeper that put the Illini up, 31-19, with 5 minutes to go. Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan threw two interceptions in Illinois territory, the first to safety Kevin Mitchell and the second to cornerback Vontae Davis.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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