MADISON — Joel Stave threw two touchdown passes and Wisconsin’s running game showed signs of life as the Badgers defeated Illinois 31-14 on Saturday.
Stave threw for 254 yards for the Badgers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), who rushed for 173 yards — 96 in the fourth quarter.
The offensive struggles of the Illini (2-4, 0-2) continued, with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase the only positive. He finished with 178 yards passing and 84 rushing as Illinois gained 287 yards overall.
Scheelhaase ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter and threw for an 8-yard touchdown to Ryan Lankford to make it 24-14 late in the game.
But Jared Abbrederis fielded the ensuing onside kick, and Montee Ball scored his second touchdown of the game to snuff any hopes of an Illinois comeback.
Ball has 59 rushing TDs in his career, nine shy of the NCAA record. He finished with 19 carries for 116 yards.
Abbrederis caught Stave’s 59-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that put Wisconsin up 24-7 and gave him his third consecutive game with more than 100 receiving yards since returning from an injury. He finished with seven catches for 117 yards.
The Badgers capitalized on a pair of Illinois miscues for their other second-half points.
With the game tied at 7-7, Stave hit Derek Watt for 26 yards, and Illinois defensive back Terry Hawthorne was called for a personal foul on the hit, putting the ball at the Illinois 33.
Following the collision, Hawthorne lay motionless on the field and was put on a stretcher and taken off in an ambulance, giving a thumbs up as he was loaded into the vehicle.
The drive ended when Kyle French made a 46-yard field goal.
Illinois’ next drive stalled near midfield, and a shanked 10-yard punt by Justin DuVernois gave Wisconsin good field position. James White had a 22-yard run, Stave hit Abbrederis for 15 yards, and Ball ran it in from 9 yards out to put Wisconsin up 17-7.
As Wisconsin’s offense has struggled, coach Bret Bielema has gone back and forth between Stave and Danny O’Brien at quarterback. Stave started the game, but Bielema went to a third option at the end of the first quarter, bringing in Curt Phillips.
Phillips has had multiple surgeries on his right knee, has thrown just 13 passes in his career and hadn’t played since the 2009 regular season finale at Hawaii. He handed off to end the first quarter, kept the ball for a 2-yard loss to open the second and gave way to Stave on third down.
The juggling didn’t work. Stave was picked off, with Steve Hull returning the ball to the Wisconsin 28. Scheelhaase completed a pass for 23 yards to give the Illini first-and-goal at the 5 before running it in on the next play.
Stave hit James White for a 62-yard touchdown on a screen pass.