By Colleen Kane, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:12 PM EDT, October 6, 2012
MADISON, Wis. — Illinois players jumped around in a herd early Saturday during Wisconsin's 31-14 victory at Camp Randall Stadium, an exaggerated moment of jubilation in a troubled season.
Illinois safety Steve Hull had snagged an interception that set up quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's 5-yard touchdown run. The Illini took their first lead in more than eight quarters of play and went into halftime tied 7-7 with the defending Big Ten champion Badgers.
Six games into the season, the Illini (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten) better hope the second half of 2012 doesn't go as poorly as the second half Saturday.
Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) crushed Illinois' enthusiasm with 24 points after halftime, including Montee Ball's two fourth-quarter touchdown runs in its 20th straight home victory before a crowd of 80,096.
"This football team is hurting," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "We have to be able to respond when something doesn't occur the way we want it to occur. We have to learn to react in a positive way and keep on fighting for four quarters."
In the showdown between two struggling offensive lines, Wisconsin earned the edge. Ball had 19 carries for 116 yards, and the Badgers outrushed Illinois 173-106. Scheelhaase, as mobile as he has been in three games following an ankle sprain, rushed for 84 yards and passed for 178 more. But he also threw his fifth interception of the season to set up Wisconsin's first-half touchdown.
"We have to be able to establish it up front," Scheelhaase said. "Our guys up front know that."
Aside from Hull's interception, Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave was 16-for-25 for 254 yards and two touchdowns — a 62-yard pass to James White in the second quarter and a 59-yarder to Jared Abbrederis in the fourth.
Those plays nullified an otherwise suitable first half for the Illini defense.
"We still gave up (31) points and (427) yards," Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown said. "We played a lot harder, but the end results aren't what we wanted. We made a couple of mistakes, had a couple of slip-ups, people not doing their job, and it showed."
The Illinois players weren't the only ones who had their miscues broadcast on national television. After the game, Beckman apologized for chewing tobacco on the sideline, a violation of an NCAA rule banning the use of tobacco products by players and coaches during practices and games that TV cameras caught.
"That's a bad habit of mine," Beckman said. "I guess it was the stress. There's no excuse for that and that will be stopped."
Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne was taken from the field in an ambulance after a collision with Wisconsin's Derek Watt in the third quarter. Hawthorne gave a thumbs up as he was put into the vehicle on a stretcher, and Beckman said a CT scan from the hospital was clear. Hawthorne was set to fly home with the Illini on Saturday night.