BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Like a pitcher who doesn’t have his best stuff but still finds a way to get outs, the Wisconsin Badgers willed their way to victory Saturday in their 31-28 win over the Indiana Hoosiers.
It was a far cry from the 55-20 blowout of a year ago, but the Badgers still managed to escape with a positive result in a back-and-forth game at Memorial Stadium.
“Our kids did enough to win,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I had a feeling that this was going to be one of those (games) where it was a four-quarter game and we would have to hang on and do what we did.”
Indiana jumped out to an early lead on their second possession, which came as a result of a miscue by Wisconsin punt returner David Gilreath.
After the Badgers held the Hoosiers on their first drive, Gilreath fumbled the punt from Indiana’s Chris Hagerup at the 10-yard line, which was recovered by IU safety Collin Taylor.
“He said he was putting the shield up and couldn’t get it,” Bielema said of Gilreath. “That was a combination of the wind and the sun.”
The Hoosiers took over with a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Two plays later, IU quarterback Ben Chappell found wide receiver Tandon Doss open in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Indiana did not lead for long, however.
Wisconsin got the ball at its own 23-yard line and quickly marched downfield, covering 77 yards in five plays and just 2:20. Running back John Clay got things going on the drive with a 48-yard run on the first play, and three more UW runs set up a play-action for a score.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien faked the end around to Gilreath before rolling to his right and finding Isaac Anderson for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Following the touchdown, the Badgers would not trail in the game’s final 3 1/2 quarters.
Wisconsin opened the second quarter with a 26-yard Philip Welch field goal, which capped off an 18-play, 72-yard drive that spanned 8:23.
Trailing 10-7, the Hoosiers capitalized on good field position to drive into Wisconsin territory and threaten to score, but a costly turnover kept them out of the end zone.
On a first-and-10 from the Wisconsin 38-yard line, Chappell’s pass was underthrown and UW safety Chris Maragos was able to sneak in for the interception, his fourth of the season.
Maragos’ interception, one of two on the day for Chappell, proved to be a huge momentum turning play for Wisconsin, which followed it with a 10-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to jump out to a 17-7 lead.
“One of our keys to victory this week was to rattle their quarterback, and I think we did that for the most part,” defensive end O’Brien Schofield said. “Guys were getting hits on him, (though) we didn’t get as many sacks on him as we would like.”
Chappell helped the IU offense counter quickly, though, orchestrating a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took just 1:04. The Hoosiers took advantage of an apparent weakness in the Badgers’ secondary, airing it out on all three plays for passes of 33 yards to Terrance Turner, one yard to Mitchell Evans and 46 yards to Doss for the score.
“We challenged them, we have to go to battle; that’s exactly what we did,” IU head coach Bill Lynch said. “I definitely think we got the big plays on offense that we have not been getting.”
As they did earlier, Wisconsin responded with a touchdown of their own, in a surprisingly efficient manner. The Badgers moved the ball 49 yards in six plays and just 1:26 to extend the lead to 10 points once again.
Five rushing plays highlighted the drive, including a 14-yard touchdown run by running back John Clay, who finished the first half with 134 yards on 15 carries.
Setting up the drive was an impressive 32-yard kick return by freshman linebacker Chris Borland, his second return of the day.
“I’m working on my average because the first one was pretty bad,” Borland said. “For a split second (I thought could score), and then I remembered I’m 230 pounds so I just tried to get as many pounds as possible.”
When play resumed in the second half, Clay was unable to return due to a “slight concussion” as Bielema referred to it. As a result, the UW offense was forced to rely on true freshman Montee Ball to carry the load the rest of the way.
Ball, a 5-foot-11 running back from Wentzville, Mo., responded in a big way.
After rushing eight times for 30 yards in the first half, Ball took over, rushing 19 times in the second half for 85 yards. He also scored his second touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter, which made it 31-21 in favor of UW after a third quarter touchdown pass from Chappell to Turner cut the Badgers’ lead to just three points.
Ball was especially important in the Badgers’ final drive, rushing eight times for 30 yards as the Wisconsin offense held the ball for the final 4:01 after an IU score cut the lead to 31-28.
Sophomore wide receiver Nick Toon had the most crucial play for the Badgers, however, catching a 17-yard toss from Tolzien on third-and-eight to keep the drive alive.
“Probably the play of the day was the play at the end, where I thought it was critical to get the throw to Nick Toon,” Bielema said. “We thought we’d get the one-on-one coverage. Big time throw, big time catch, big time call.”