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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There was no second half letdown this time. A week after a fourth-quarter comeback felled the Badgers, Wisconsin took a four-point halftime lead and extended it into a 55-20 thumping of Indiana in Bloomington Saturday.
Up 24-20 at the break, David Gilreath took a handoff 90 yards down the sideline early in the third quarter to put the Badgers up 31-20. From there, it was smooth sailing.
“I think they played Wisconsin football,” Wisconsin head coach Bielema said of his team’s second-half performance. “They definitely knew that they were going to run the football. We talked about it as coaches at the half to the players, and we talked about just being able to get off the field on third down.”
For Wisconsin (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) it was the team’s first Big Ten road win this season, dropping the Hoosiers (3-7, 1-5 Big Ten) to the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell suffered a head injury at the end of the first half and was replaced in the second half by backups Kellen Lewis and Mitchell Evans.
Lewis and Evans combined to complete just one pass as the Hoosiers were shut out in the second half with just 53 yards.
“It threw a kink in what they wanted to do,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said of the quarterback change. “But we prepared for both, and we were ready for whatever.
I think our defense played great regardless. I think whoever had been in the game, our defense would have done the same job against [that person].”
Wisconsin turned the ball over three times — all in the first-half — but only allowed Indiana to score three points off turnovers.
“That’s what we’ve needed all season,” safety Jay Valai said. “It’s called manning up, and we finally manned up and came out there and played good ball.”
Phillip Welch connected on a 39-yard field goal with 7:13 left in the third quarter to put the Badgers up 34-20 after UW forced IU punter Chris Hagerup to hold onto the ball at the 16-yard line.
Wisconsin got the job done offensively with its most potent rushing attack of the season. The Badgers ran for 441 yards and seven touchdowns against the Hoosiers.
“That’s what we always want to do,” center John Moffitt said. “We always want to have that kind of responsibility.”
The first half wasn’t so one-sided.
Dustin Sherer got out of bounds with five seconds left in the first half, allowing the Badgers to kick a field goal to give UW a 24-20 lead.
“We’re gonna take a shot,” Bielema said, “but we for sure wanted to take points off [the drive with] that. That’s why we opted for the field goal.”
With 1:21 left in the half, Wisconsin forced a punt, but Gilreath dropped the catch and Indiana’s Zach Walker-Davis picked it up on one hop before being taken down at the Wisconsin 15-yard line.
On the next play, Chappell took it up the middle before Valai knocked the ball out. Levy recovered the fumble and returned it to midfield, setting up a Welch field goal that made it 24-20 at halftime.
Gilreath put the Badgers up 21-13 when he caught a screen pass from Sherer behind the line of scrimmage and rushed in for an 8-yard touchdown.
Indiana cut the lead to 14-10 when Chappell hit Andrew Means for a 43-yard touchdown. Maragos was beat in coverage and Chappell easily hit the open man for the score.
On the ensuing possession, Mario Goins fumbled the kickoff return after taking it out of the end zone and Indiana recovered at the Wisconsin 16-yard line.
“I think he was OK to come out with it,” Bielema said. “The play was designed to return outside the hash, and he cut it inside coming off the goal line.”
The Badger defense held the Hoosiers to zero yards and IU settled for another field goal.
Indiana kicked a field goal on its first possession after Matt Shaughnessy got flagged for roughing the passer after Ben Chappell’s third-down pass fell incomplete. The 15 yards and automatic first down enabled the Hoosiers to convert a 42-yard attempt.
Wisconsin scored on the game’s opening drive when P.J. Hill ran in on a three-yard rush. The Badgers converted a fourth-down attempt when Zack Brown caught a 16-yard pass earlier in the drive.
Wisconsin hosts Minnesota next weekend.