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October 6, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- Rashard Mendenhall led Illinois into unfamiliar territory Saturday, rushing for 160 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the Illini's 31-26 win over No. 5 Wisconsin.
The Illini ended Wisconsin's 14-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and improved to 5-1 overall. Illinois is off to a 3-0 start in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990.
Mendenhall had 100 yards rushing in the first half, leading the Illini to a 17-6 lead. Wisconsin didn't score until less than three minutes were left in the half on a 38-yard field goal from Taylor Mehlhaff.
The Badgers (5-1, 2-1) hadn't lost since Sept. 16, 2006, at Michigan.
Wisconsin's P.J. Hill entered the game as the Big Ten's top running back, averaging 133.4 yards a game. But the Illini held him to 83 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown.
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams ran for another 92 yards on 14 carries -- though it was the sophomore quarterback's relief, Eddie McGee, who essentially sealed the win.
For the second week in a row, Illinois coach Ron Zook sent McGee in during the second half. Against Penn State, the redshirt freshman ripped of a 53-yard run to secure a 24-19 win. This time, he scored on a 5-yard keeper that put the Illini up 31-19 with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
Before the touchdown, Wisconsin had grabbed the momentum and quieted the crowd of 57,078 who packed sold-out Memorial Stadium.
Hill leaned into the end zone from 1 yard out to cap a 78-yard drive that pulled Wisconsin within 24-19, the second of three second-half touchdowns given up by Illinois.
Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan threw two interceptions in Illinois territory, the first to Illinois safety Kevin Mitchell and the second to cornerback Vontae Davis. The 6-foot Davis out-jumped the taller Travis Beckum at the Illini 29 with just over 10 minutes left in the game.
Donovan, though, led the Badgers to the brink of a comeback. The senior quarterback, who was high on several throws, hit tight end Garrett Graham for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:31 left in the game.
The Badgers tried an onside kick, but Illinois recovered it.
Donovan completed 27 of 49 passes for two touchdowns, with Beckum his favorite target. He caught 11 balls for 160 yards.
Williams was far more effective on the ground than in the air. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown -- a pitch to Mendenhall that was ruled a forward pass.
The Badgers contained freshman sensation Arrelious Benn, who scored twice against Penn State. The Illinois receiver caught five passes for only 51 yards.
Below is a recap of Ron Zook's post game comments
Another great win for Illinois football today.
Ron Zook: I am just proud of our team, everyone we have here. It just takes everybody to do this. I am so happy for the Illini nation.
A lot of offense this game but it was defense, the two big interceptions that won this game.
Ron Zook: That is a pretty good offense. We were kind of hurting ourselves. We gave up some big plays, we missed a tackle there and let Hill get down the sidelines. The number 9's on the field today were pretty good and so were the number 2's on the field today. Those were some real good players out there.
I thought today your guys came out and did a great job of being physical, hitting their backs, receivers hard. The chemistry on defense just looks like it's getting better and better.
Ron Zook: I thought it was important to know that all this week, we talked about how physical this offense was going to be and it was. We said it was going to take everything we had for sixty minutes and that is the way it turned out.
Fullback Russ Weil and the offensive line don't always get the credit they deserve but today, both come up big. Russ had a big block to free up Mendenhall on a TD and than a great catch to set up another TD.
Ron Zook: Russ is just getting back to normal. He had that high ankle sprain at Camp Rantoul. Now he is getting back into full stride. He is a guy that we need in there. I am just happy he is doing so well.
Updates on the health of Juice (Williams) and Arrelious Benn?
Ron Zook: Juice is going to be fine. He has a sore knee, he could have gone back in. Arrelious stiff-armed and they grabbed the same shoulder that he hurt at Camp Rantoul but he should be fine. He was OK, at one point they felt he was ready to go back in but I said, 'no' I didn't want to put him back in unless we really had to.
92 rushing yards, over 100 yards rushing, that is a pretty good day for Juice Williams.
Ron Zook: He had a great day. When he starts running, he was the old Juice running over people.
Rashard was really giving Wisconsin some headaches.
Ron Zook: We said it in the beginning, if Rashard played like we thought he could, we had a chance to be a pretty good football team. I said it to him again when Rejus got hurt, put the team on your back and he did.
Another close win for your team.
Ron Zook: It's a sign of growing. I wish the games would be over earlier (laughing). But it's a sixty minute game. At halftime, I told the team that Wisconsin was saying the same thing they said last year, now we have to go out and finish this and win it. I said have we got better, have we done the things we need to do in the off-season to get better? If we had, than we won't let them back in this game and win it.
Players back in the seats again celebrating.
Ron Zook: Coach Guenther even likes it.