Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Curt Phillips (10) is chased down by Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown (45) and defensive lineman Michael Buchanan (99) during a brief appearance in the second quarter of a game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. M.P. King-State Journal

Michael P. King

For the second time in the last three games at Camp Randall Stadium, fans have rained boos on the University of Wisconsin football team as it heads to the locker room at halftime.

Depending on your perspective, that could be interpreted two ways.

Is it the product of a knowledgeable fan base that demands exceptional performances -- which certainly was lacking in the opening 30 minutes against both Utah State and Illinois -- for the ever-growing price of admission?

Or has Badger Nation become spoiled by two straight Rose Bowl trips and a 20-game home winning streak that is second in the country only to LSU -- to the point that tickets were hard to give away Saturday and a good deal of the unfashionably late student section didn't bother to show up at all?

The bottom line: For a team that has been a work in progress and probably will ride a rollercoaster the rest of the way, it's obviously not an easy audience. 

The trigger points were pretty obvious Saturday. For starters, no one was charged up about the matchup with the Illini, apparently including the Badgers' offense, which managed all of 52 yards and no points on its first five possessions against a team that had been gouged for 35 points in the first quarters of two straight lopsided losses.

Those five drives included four punts -- three on three-and-outs -- as well as an interception, all while Wisconsin was falling into a 7-0 hole.

Add to that malaise five penalties, and another odd twist to the quarterback rotation when Curt Phillips -- he of the three ACL surgeries on his right knee -- made his first game appearance in three years and got popped when asked to roll out right in an option set.

The capper was Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's curious decision to not attempt a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half, with the Badgers facing fourth down at midfield in a 7-7 tie and not in danger of leaving any time on the clock for an Illinois possession.

It's easy to see why people would get riled up, but it also seems the boo birds don't need much excuse to let loose these days. Everyone was cheering by the time the Fifth Quarter rolled around after the Badgers ran away with a 31-14 victory, of course, but it's evident that dissatisfaction simmers pretty close to the surface. 

Stave's targets

Here's a look at the distribution of the pass attempts Saturday by Badgers quarterback Joel Stave. (Note: Curt Phillips threw one pass to James White that was negated by a penalty.)

The number of completions is noted in parentheses.

Jared Abbrederis: 10 (7, including TD)

Jacob Pedersen: 3 (1)

Chase Hammond: 3 (2)

Derek Watt: 2 (2)

Montee Ball: 2 (1)

Jordan Fredrick: 2 (1)

Sam Arneson: 1 (1)

James White: 1 (1, TD)

Brian Wozniak: 1 (0)

By the numbers

2: touchdowns by Montee Ball will tie Ron Dayne for most in UW and Big Ten history at 71. Ball is tied for third in NCAA history at 69 with Texas Tech's Taurean Henderson and needs 10 to surpass Miami (Ohio)'s Travis Prentice for the all-time mark.

11: points Montee Ball needs to overtake Ron Dayne as the Badgers' all-time leading scorer.

20: consecutive home victories at Camp Randall, the second-longest streak in the country behind LSU (21).

32: tackles by the starting linebacking trio of Mike Taylor (12), Chris Borland (10) and Ethan Armstrong (10).

42: yards allowed by Badgers on six game-opening drives this season, including 15 yards on a penalty and no first downs in the last five games. 

How foes fared

Northern Iowa (W, 26-21): Lost 33-21 to North Dakota State to fall to 1-4. Up next: at Southern Illinois.

At Oregon State (L, 10-7): Beat Washington State 19-6 in Corvallis to go 4-0, including 3-0 in the Pac-12. Up next: Saturday at BYU.

Utah State (W, 16-14): Lost 6-3 at BYU on Friday to fall to 4-2. Up next: Saturday at San Jose State.

Texas-El Paso (W, 37-26): Lost 17-0 at home to SMU to fall to 1-5. Up next: Saturday at Tulsa.

At Nebraska (L, 30-27): Lost 63-38 at Ohio State heading into a bye week to fall to 4-1, 0-1 Legends. Up next: at Northwestern on Oct. 20.

Illinois (W, 31-14). Fell to 2-4, 0-2 Leaders. Up next: Saturday at Michigan. 

At Purdue, Oct. 13, 11 a.m., BTN: Routed 44-13 by the Wolverines at home to fall to 3-2, 1-1 Leaders. Up next: Saturday vs. Wisconsin.

Minnesota, Oct. 20, TBD: Had a bye week and stands at 4-1, 0-1 Legends. Up next: Saturday vs. Northwestern.

Michigan State, Oct. 27, 2:30 p.m., ABC: Rallied from a 17-point deficit at Indiana to improve to 4-2, 1-1 Legends. Up next: Saturday vs. Iowa.

Bye, Nov. 3.

At Indiana, Nov. 10, TBD. Fell to 2-3, 0-2 Leaders. Up next: Saturday vs. Ohio State.

Ohio State, Nov. 17, TBD. Improved to 6-0, 2-0 Leaders.

At Penn State, Nov. 24, TBD: Rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat visiting Northwestern 39-28 and improve to 4-2, 2-0 Leaders. Up next: bye next week; at Iowa on Oct. 20.