Champaign, Ill. — The plan was for Wisconsin to roll into a showdown with Ohio State next week unbeaten, with a defense putting up historic numbers and a Heisman Trophy contender at running back.
Illinois had other plans.
James McCourt kicked a 39-yard field as time expired and the Illini pulled off the biggest upset of the college football season, knocking off No. 6 Wisconsin, 24-23, on Saturday.
“Our program, we needed to get a signature win. I was just hoping today was the day, and the day came,” said Illini coach Lovie Smith, the former Chicago Bears coach who entered the game 11-31 overall and 4-26 in the Big Ten since taking over Illinois in 2016.
“Against the No. 6 team in the country, we played them toe-to-toe. We saw so much fight. We learned an awful lot about ourselves. We’re pumped up. One of the best wins we can possibly have at this stage in our program.”
Tony Adams picked off a pass by Jack Coan for the Illini (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten), who were 30½-point underdogs, at midfield with 2:33 remaining that set up the winning drive.
Dre Brown’s tackle-breaking 13-yard run got Illinois to the Wisconsin 25 with 34 seconds left and then the Illini set up McCourt to attempt a winner. The junior kicker was down the middle with the field goal to give Smith the most significant victory for Illinois in years.
“No matter if it’s an extra point or a game-winner you kind of have to take the approach that every kick is the same because if you take a different approach you might get thrown off or something might be a little different,” said McCourt, who missed a 40-yard attempt in the first quarter.
Fans rushed the field when it was over and “Jump Around” — a signature song at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium — blared through the speakers at Memorial Stadium.
“It was amazing,” Adams said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
After the first six weeks of the college football season produced few surprises at the top of the rankings, there have now been major upsets in consecutive weeks. Last week it was then-No. 3 Georgia losing at home to South Carolina in double overtime. Wisconsin becomes the second-highest ranked team to lose to an unranked foe this season.
This was even more stunning.
The Badgers had not trailed this season, allowing only 29 points with four shutouts in six games. Illinois lost to Eastern Michigan earlier this season and has not even been bowl eligible since 2014. Instead, the Badgers (6-1, 4-1) blew a nine-point lead in the final 9:46 of the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Illinois beat a ranked team for the first time since 2011 and knocked off a ranked Big Ten team for the first time since 2007, when the Illini beat No. 1 Ohio State in November on their way to a Rose Bowl appearance. The last time Illinois beat a ranked Big Ten team at home was October 2007, a 31-26 victory against No. 5 Wisconsin.
Heisman Trophy contender Jonathan Taylor rushed 28 times for 132 yards and one touchdown for Wisconsin, but he also lost a fumble in Illinois territory in the fourth quarter to help fuel the comeback.
“We had two drives late in the game that ended in turnovers,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s always hard to win on the road, and that made it even harder. We just have to move on and learn from this.”
Coan was 24 of 32 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown, but his second turnover of the season came at a crucial time. He sailed a pass on third-and-5 that Adams grabbed to give the Illinois a short field against the No. 1 defense in the nation.
Illinois had cut Wisconsin’s lead to 20-14 late in the third quarter on a 43-yard touchdown run by Reggie Corbin.
Wisconsin had opportunities to pad its lead, but settled for a field goal after a first-and-goal from the 3 and then Taylor fumbled at the Illinois 25.
After the fumble, the Illini ripped off a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by former Wolverine Brandon Peters’ 29-yard pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe to make it 23-21 with 5:53 left.
More Big Ten
Indiana 34, (at) Maryland 28: Peyton Ramsey threw for 193 yards in a relief role and Stevie Scott ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns to help Indiana outlast Maryland.
The Hoosiers (5-2, 2-2) amassed 520 yards, including 334 through the air against the worst pass defense in the conference.
Javon Leake ran for a career-high 158 yards and two scores for Maryland (3-4, 1-3), which has lost four of five under first-year coach Michael Locksley.
Ramsey took over for freshman Michael Penix Jr. with 12 minutes left in the second quarter and Indiana ahead 14-7. It was unclear whether Penix was injured; the team provided no details pertaining to his absence.
A 9-yard touchdown run by Stevie Scott III put Indiana ahead 31-21 in the third quarter, but Maryland answered with a 1-yard TD run by Leake following a 52-yard completion from Tyrrell Pigrome to Tyler Mabry.
It was still 31-28 with 3:42 remaining when Indiana’s Juwan Burgess stripped the ball from Leake and pounced on the loose ball at the Maryland 15. That set up a field goal, and the Terrapins got to the Indiana 44 before an interception ended their final threat.
(At) No. 23 Iowa 26, Purdue 20: Mekhi Sargent ran for a 14-yard score with 2:16 left and 23rd-ranked Iowa held off Purdue to snap a two-game losing streak.
Tyler Goodson scored his first career touchdown from a yard out and Keith Duncan kicked four field goals for the Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-2), who also broke a two-game skid against the Boilermakers (2-5, 1-3).
The Boilermakers cut it to 19-13 on J.D. Dellinger’s 36-yard field goal with 2:59 left. But Purdue was assessed a personal foul after squibbing the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and runs of 21 and 14 yards by Sargent gave the Hawkeyes the cushion.
Jack Plummer’s 1-yard TD pass to Payne Durham with 24 seconds left made it 26-20. But Iowa secured the onside kick.
David Bell caught 13 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown for Purdue, which ran for just 33 yards.
No. 20 Minnesota 42, (at) Rutgers 7: Rodney Smith ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns and Minnesota improved to 7-0 for the first time since winning the national title in 1960.
Smith scored on runs of 3 and 16 yards and Tanner Morgan threw two touchdowns as the Gophers (7-0, 4-0) won their ninth straight game spanning two seasons and handed Rutgers (1-6, 0-5) its fifth consecutive loss overall and 17th straight in the Big Ten Conference.
The nine-game winning streak is the Gophers’ longest since 1941-42.
The Gophers blew the game open in the fourth quarter, when Mohamed Ibrahim had a 6-yard TD run and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. scored on a 33-yard interception return on consecutive plays on offense. Morgan, who went 15 of 28 for 245 yards, scored his second TD, a 56-yard pass to Tyler Johnson that could have been viewed as rubbing it in against a beaten foe.
Rutgers avoided its fourth shutout in a Big Ten game this season when Kay’Ron Adams scored on a 5-yard run with 5:33 to play.