Wisconsin certainly made things interesting on Saturday by falling behind by 10 points at halftime against Illinois. But the Badgers responded when they needed defensive stops, and running back Montee Ball took care of the rest.The result was a 28-17 come-from-behind victory for Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten), moving the Badgers closer to a berth in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.Here are five things we learned from Saturday's game:1. Wisconsin finally took care of business when controlling its destiny.
The path for Wisconsin to the Big Ten title game was clear entering Saturday: win its final two regular-season games and advance to Indianapolis. As the first half showed, that task is easier said than done.Things certainly didn't look good against Illinois, a team that hadn't scored a single first-half point in its previous four games but managed 17 on Saturday. Still, the Badgers deserve credit for crawling back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to overtake Illinois.Wisconsin showed true grit in outscoring Illinois, 21-0, in the second half. It was one of few adverse situations the Badgers faced this season in which they came back to win a game.Wisconsin fans should know all too well this season that nothing is guaranteed. The Badgers also controlled their postseason destiny entering their game against Michigan State and lost, 37-31, on a last-second Hail Mary. Now, the only thing standing in Wisconsin's way of a Big Ten title game appearance and maintaining a shot at the Rose Bowl is a victory in its regular-season finale against Penn State next Saturday.2. Russell Wilson's touchdown streak continued. Barely.
It wasn't Wilson's finest couple of hours on Saturday, but like any good quarterback, he got the job done even while having a relatively average day.In the first half, Wilson completed just 4 of 6 pass attempts for 41 yards with no touchdowns, and his consecutive games with a touchdown streak appeared to be in serious peril. But he ended the drama with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter when he connected with running back Montee Ball on a five-yard touchdown pass, which pulled Wisconsin to within 17-14. In the process, Wilson threw a touchdown pass in his 35th straight game dating back to his days at North Carolina State. That mark is now just one shy of tying the NCAA record held by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.For the game, Wilson finished 10 of 13 for 90 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. It wasn't spectacular by any means, but it was yet another efficient effort by the Badgers senior. 3. A much-maligned secondary stepped up big time.
The Badgers' secondary received plenty of backlash from pundits because of their part in allowing back-to-back last-minute touchdowns in losses against Michigan State and Ohio State earlier this season. Maybe those plays were flukes, but when people sought to deliver blame, the secondary bore the brunt of the criticism. On Saturday, the secondary played a huge role in Wisconsin's comeback victory against Illinois, producing three interceptions one apiece from Aaron Henry, Antonio Fenelus and Shelton Johnson.Fenelus snagged the first interception in the third quarter with Wisconsin trailing, 17-14. Henry earned the second pick less than one minute into the fourth quarter. The interception helped lead to a 17-yard rushing touchdown from Montee Ball, which put Wisconsin in front, 28-17.With Illinois desperately needing a touchdown and driving to Wisconsin's 29-yard-line, Johnson picked off Nathan Scheelhaase with 7:30 remaining in the game. And the Illini never saw the ball again.Wisconsin immediately ran 13 consecutive plays to salt the game away.
4. Center Ryan Groy still has work to do.
When center Peter Konz went down with an ankle injury last week against Minnesota, the immediate question was: How would his replacement, Ryan Groy, fill the huge void left behind?Groy did his job well for the most part in a starting role on Saturday, but it was evident that he still needs to adjust, particularly during a two-play stretch that led directly to a Wisconsin punt.With Wisconsin facing a third-and-seven from its own 47, Groy was called for a false start. On the ensuing play, with Wilson behind Groy in a shotgun formation, Groy snapped the ball well over the head of Wilson, who had to backtrack just to collect the ball and avoid a turnover.The play went for a 19-yard loss and brought up fourth-and-31, bringing in Badgers punter Brad Nortman.Fortunately for Groy, the miscues did not cost Wisconsin. Nortman boomed a 74-yard punt that was downed at the Illinois 3-yard-line, and the Illini quickly went three-and-out.5. Montee Ball is a workhorse.
By now, most people are probably beginning to take notice of Ball's incredible touchdown rate. In 11 games, he has amassed 30 total touchdowns and is just nine shy of tying the NCAA record held by Barry Sanders.But Ball isn't just scoring touchdowns. He is doing the dirty work that helps the Badgers win football games. On Saturday, with Wisconsin in search of an offensive spark and some positive yardage, Ball was more than up to the task. During the second half, he carried the ball 26 times, gaining 164 yards.For the game, Ball finished with 38 carries, 224 yards rushing and two touchdowns, adding another receiving score. His yards-per-carry average was 5.9, but there were several instances when he gained only two or three yards at a time to keep drives alive.On Wisconsin's first drive of the second half, for example, Ball carried 10 times and gained just 14 yards, which included converting two fourth downs. And because of the expectation that Ball would continue to carry the ball, he was able to sneak into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown reception from Wilson, which brought Wisconsin to within 17-14.Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.