MADISON, Wisconsin — Chase Brown rushed for 129 yards, Tommy DeVito had three short touchdown goalkeepers, and Illinois defeated 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’s turnover and scored the last 27 points of the game to win as a 6½-point underdog, earning its first Madison win since 2002. The Illini sacked Graham Mertz six times and held the ties to rush 2 yards on 24 carries.
“This was sweet,” said Brown. “It’s not a fluke. We came here expecting to win and we did.”
Bielema had gone 68-24 in seven years as the Wisconsin coach before leaving for Arkansas at the end of the 2012 regular season as the Badgers prepared for a Rose Bowl appearance. Wisconsin has won at least part of the Big Ten title each of its last three seasons.
He was fired from Arkansas in 2017 after turning 29-34 and took over the Illinois program in December 2020. The Badgers won 24-0 at Illinois last season, but this was Bielema’s first time against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
Bielema was the first coach to take an opposing Big Ten team into a school he coached for a Big Ten title since John Pont coached Northwestern in a 1973 game in Indiana. Pont had led Indiana to part of the 1967 Big Ten crown.
The crowd gave Bielema a little boo when his name was announced in the pregame introductions, even though the stands were less than 20% full at the time about half an hour before the 11am local time kick-off.
A much larger crowd showed considerably more dismay as the Badgers were dismantled for a second week in a row. Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2) came off a 52-21 loss to No. 3 Ohio State.
“Everyone has to own it,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who was an offensive coordinator on Bielema’s Wisconsin staff from 2006-11. “Everyone is part of this whole deal, so we all need to be part of the solution.”
Illinois took a 14-10 lead at halftime by scoring a pair of touchdowns after intercepting Graham Mertz passes in Wisconsin territory. The Illini broke open the game by beating Wisconsin 17-0 in the third quarter, including a 49-yard touchdown from Brown.
Brown, who started the day with a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 151 yards per game, produced his sixth straight 100-yard performance. Wisconsin Braelon Allen, who ranked fifth among all FBS players with 124.3 yards rushing per game, had just 2 yards on 8 carries.
Illinois held Wisconsin at 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 taking the sacks out of the equation, Wisconsin still only amassed 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 only 13 of 27 for 152 yards with two interceptions the rest of the way and played the last 2½ quarters taped on his left hand (non-throwing).
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 made Bielema so successful in Wisconsin. They defeated Wisconsin 137-2, making fewer mistakes than their opponent and winning on the line of scrimmage. Illinois will host Iowa and No. 21 Minnesota in matches over the next two weeks that could determine how important they are in the Big Ten West race.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have to start asking themselves some tough questions about the direction of their schedule as they have dropped below .500 after opening the season in the Top 25. Wisconsin’s offense was hurt by injuries that left Hayden Rucci, Guerendo and wide receiver Skyler Bell out of the game. The Badgers also announced before the game that Clay Cundiff’s tight end is out for the remainder of the season after he was ejected at Ohio State.