Bielema has happy return as Illinois pounds Wisconsin 34-10
MADISON, Wis. -- Chase Brown rushed for 129 yards, Tommy DeVito had three short touchdown keepers and Illinois trounced Wisconsin 34-10 on Saturday to give coach Bret Bielema a triumphant return to Camp Randall Stadium.
Illinois (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) scored 17 points off Wisconsin turnovers and scored the game's final 27 points to win as a 6½-point underdog and earn its first victory in Madison since 2002. The Illini sacked Graham Mertz six times and held the Badgers to 2 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"This was sweet," Brown said. "It's not a fluke. We came here expecting to win and we did."
Bielema had gone 68-24 in seven years as Wisconsin's coach before leaving for Arkansas at the end of the 2012 regular season as the Badgers were preparing for a Rose Bowl appearance. Wisconsin won at least a share of the Big Ten title each of his last three seasons.
He was fired at Arkansas in 2017 after going 29-34 and took over Illinois' program in December 2020. The Badgers won 24-0 at Illinois last season, but this was the first time Bielema had faced Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
Bielema was the first coach to take an opposing Big Ten team to a school he coached to a Big Ten title since John Pont coached Northwestern in a 1973 game at Indiana. Pont had led Indiana to a share of the 1967 Big Ten crown.
The crowd gave Bielema a smattering of boos when his name was announced in the pregame introductions, though the stands were less than 20% full at that point about half an hour before the 11 a.m. local time kickoff.
A much larger crowd showed significantly more displeasure as the Badgers got dismantled for a second straight week. Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2) was coming off a 52-21 loss at No. 3 Ohio State.
"Everyone's got to own it," said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who was an offensive coordinator on Bielema's Wisconsin staff from 2006-11. "Everyone's a part of this whole deal, so we've all got to be part of the solution."
Illinois took a 14-10 halftime lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns after intercepting Graham Mertz passes in Wisconsin territory. The Illini broke the game open by outscoring Wisconsin 17-0 in the third quarter, including a 49-yard touchdown run by Brown.
Brown, who entered the day with a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 151 yards rushing per game, produced his sixth straight 100-yard performance. Wisconsin's Braelon Allen, who had been ranked fifth among all FBS players with 124.3 yards rushing per game, had just 2 yards on 8 carries.
Illinois held Wisconsin to its lowest single-game rushing total since 2015, when the Badgers had minus-26 yards on 26 carries in a 13-7 loss to Northwestern. Even if the sacks were taken out of the equation, Wisconsin still mustered only 1.6 yards per carry.
Mertz went 4 of 4 for 54 yards on Wisconsin's opening possession and capped the series with a 21-yard touchdown to Isaac Guerendo on third-and-8. But he was just 13 of 27 for 152 yards with two interceptions the rest of the way and played the last 2½ quarters with tape around his left (non-throwing) hand.
DeVitto went 18 of 24 for 167 yards. Each of his three touchdown runs was from 1 yard out.
The Illini won with the same style that Bielema had so much success with at Wisconsin. They outrushed Wisconsin 137-2, made fewer mistakes than their opponent and won at the line of scrimmage. Illinois hosts Iowa and No. 21 Minnesota the next two weeks in games that could determine how much of a factor they are in the Big Ten West race.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have to start asking themselves some difficult questions about the direction of their program as they've fallen below .500 after opening the season in the Top 25. Wisconsin's offense was hurt by injuries that knocked tight end Hayden Rucci, Guerendo and wide receiver Skyler Bell out of the game. The Badgers also announced before the game that tight end Clay Cundiff is out for the rest of the season after getting carted off the field at Ohio State.