Illinois came into Saturday on a four-game losing streak. Head coach Lovie Smith, in his fourth season at the helm, has seen this crucial season of his tenure unravel in the last month.
After starting 2-0, the Illini lost to Eastern Michigan 34-31 on a walk-off field goal. Then in Week 4, Smith’s squad lost 42-38 at home to Nebraska.
Then QB Brandon Peters got a concussion. Losses at Minnesota and vs. Michigan followed.
Peters, who had a 10/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio before getting injured, was listed as ‘questionable’ for Saturday’s game vs. unbeaten Wisconsin all week.
The Badgers came to town as 31-point road favorites. When Peters was cleared to play, the line dropped to 30.5 or 30 at most books.
Wisconsin took the lead early in the first quarter and extended it to 10-0 until Illinois got on the board midway through the second quarter. Paul Chryst’s team added a field goal to lead 13-7 at halftime.
The Badgers took a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter on a five-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor. For most of the third quarter, it didn’t appear that there was anything special going down at Memorial Stadium.
However, that changed when Reggie Corbin ripped off a 43-yard TD run for the Illini, making it a one-possession game with 48 seconds left in the third.
Wisconsin answered with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that chewed up more than six minutes of clock, but all the Badgers could get was a 20-yard field goal to extend their lead to 23-14 with 9:46 remaining.
Peters found Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 29-yard scoring strike to pull within two at 23-21 with 5:53 remaining.
After Wisconsin got a first down, it was facing a third-and-five play from its own 45 with 2:32 left. Jack Coan was then intercepted by Tony Adams at Illinois’ 47.
A few plays later, the Illini were facing third and six with 55 seconds remaining. Peters fond Daniel Barker for nine yards and a first down.
Two plays later, Dre Brown’s 13-yard run put Illinois at Wisconsin’s 25 and into field-goal range. From there, Smith dripped the clock to set up James McCourt for a 39-yard field goal on the game’s final play
McCourt buried the game winner right down the middle to lift Illinois to a 24-23 victory. For bettors who took the Illini on the money line at William Hill, they garnered a 25/1 payout. For those at 5Dimes who took Illinois to win outright, they cashed tickets at 50/1 odds!
It is the biggest upset of the 2019 season to date from an underdog standpoint, surpassing Georgia State’s win at Tennessee and Bowling Green’s win over Toledo last week.
In fact, it was the second-biggest upset in the Big Ten since 1982, when Northwestern beat Minnesota as a 32-point underdog.
Pregame’s Brad Powers weighed in on Twitter about the stunning result:
Illinois improved to 3-4 going into next week’s game at Purdue, which might not have star WR Rondale Moore due to an injury. Then Smith’s bunch hosts Rutgers. A home game vs. Northwestern in the regular-season finale also lingers, so it’s not out of the question that Illinois could get bowl eligible — and therefore save Smith’s job.
As for the Badgers, they aren’t necessarily out of the College Playoff picture, but this is a significant setback. If Wisconsin wins out, though, and gets to face an undefeated Ohio State team in the Big Ten Championship Game, a win there would have them in the CFP conversation.
This wasn’t the only upset today. Oregon State went into Berkley and won 21-17 over California as a 10.5-point road underdog. The Beavers cashed +335 money-line tickets.