Wisconsin receiver Skyler Bell driven by missed opportunities at Ohio State as he and the Badgers prep for an 'aggressive' Illinois defense

MADISON – Skyler Bell led Wisconsin in receptions and receiving yards in the loss to Ohio State.

He enters UW’s game Saturday against visiting Illinois No. 1 on the team in receptions (12) and receiving yards (201) and tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions (two).

The redshirt freshman from the Bronx is far from satisfied.

Bell thought he had two chances to make big plays in the loss to the Buckeyes and failed both times.

“Making tough plays, finishing tough plays,” Bell said when asked how he can do more to help the team the rest of the season. “I had a couple balls thrown to me that I thought I could have made.”

The second of the two plays came in the final seconds of the first half.

Skyler Bell focused on improving from missed chances in Ohio State game

UW trailed, 31-7, and faced fourth and 3 on the Buckeyes’ 41. Bell was one of two wide receivers who ran vertical routes from the right side of the UW formation.

Bell was near the sideline, 5 yards behind a cornerback. The ball from Graham Mertz was slightly underthrown, however, which gave safety Tanner McCallister time to close from the middle of the field. Bell acknowledged he didn’t track the ball well enough in the air and the result was an incompletion rather than a touchdown.

“The ball was coming out before he hit me,” Bell said. “When he hit me it (pushed) it through my hands.

“That is one I wish I could have had back because that could have helped us a lot. Obviously, our goal is to be perfect. You want to have a good game every game.”

Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Skyler Bell leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches but regrets not making two plays he thinks he should have against Ohio State last week.
Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Skyler Bell leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches but regrets not making two plays he thinks he should have against Ohio State last week.

Bell and Mertz talked about the play.

“We both know where we could have been better on that play,” Bell said. “That could have helped us and gave us momentum going into halftime.

“That was definitely a big play in the game.”

Mertz added: “He was open. Just got to complete it.”

Bell talked over the play with wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted and believes he should have made the catch and would have had he done a few things differently.

“If I could do that play over,” he said, “I would look a little bit earlier for the ball so I could see it better and slow my speed down. Other than that, go up and try to make a play on it.

“Maybe I should have went up and attacked it or tried to draw a P.I. (pass interference). When I was running, I didn’t track the ball well. I lost it in the air.”

The first missed chance came one series earlier, with UW facing third and 9 from its 43.

Bell got open on an in-breaking route past the first-down marker, but cornerback Jyaire Brown raked down across Bell’s right arm before the ball arrived and the pass was incomplete.

“I didn’t get the call,” Bell said, “but I feel like I could have finished that even without the call.”

Illinois has 'aggressive' defense that has challenged offenses this season

UW faces a critical game against the Illini, who have limited opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate of just 41.6%. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown one touchdown pass and six interceptions.

Cornerback Devon Witherspoon and safety Jartavius Martin have broken up six passes apiece. Each player has one interception.

"They’re aggressive," UW offensive coordinator Bobby Engram said. "They’re going to come up and challenge you. What they’re doing is not complicated. They’re just telling the guys to go out and play tough football and fly around. Good, sound scheme. Good players that compete hard."

Bell knows he’ll likely have to make contested catches against the Illini, catches he didn’t make at Ohio State.

“As receivers, we get stuck on plays that we could have made,” he said. “That was a play I feel I could have made. I am hard on myself about things like that. That is the type of player I am. I want to make every play.

“I’ll beat myself up about it. Not too much. But I hope to make every play I can on Saturday.”

More: Bret Bielema's return to Madison comes at time when Wisconsin is struggling under Paul Chryst. Bielema went through a similar stretch at UW.

More: Wisconsin will likely utilize Braelon Allen more in the Wildcat package this season after debuting the formation vs. Ohio State

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Skyler Bell seeks perfection, as he and Wisconsin prepare for Illinois