Montee Ball's (28) 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns helped Wisconsin clinch its second straight Big Ten Championship game berth.
Indiana’s improbable push for a Big Ten Championship game appearance did not so much evaporate Saturday as it was incinerated, reduced to dust by the most prolific team rushing performance in Wisconsin history.
The Badgers (7-3, 4-2) rushed for 564 yards, a school record, in a 62-14 rout in Bloomington, against an Indiana team that at 4-6, 2-4 in the Big Ten, officially saw its hope for a trip to Indianapolis in December evaporate into the blue November sky. Do-everything back Montee Ball carried the standard for Wisconsin, rushing for 198 yards and three scores, which brings him within one touchdown of tying Travis Prentice for first place in NCAA history.
“We just couldn’t stop the run,” said senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle, who on Saturday tied a program record for most career starts with 45. “That’s on us as a defensive line. That’s on me.”
Thanks to the ineligibility through NCAA penalties of Ohio State and Penn State to qualify for the Big Ten title game, Indiana could have moved into pole position to represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis with a win against the Badgers. Those plans were quickly put on ice Saturday, as Wisconsin raced to a 17-0 lead.
Indiana appeared to settle itself defensively, and a sterling one-handed catch by Ted Bolser highlighted a six-play, 69-yard touchdown drive to bring Indiana within 10 points at the end of the second quarter.
Giving the ball back to Wisconsin with about two minutes left in the half seemed to prompt Badgers coach Bret Bielema to simply try to run out the clock, particularly after Wisconsin took an eight-yard loss on a Ball carry on 1st-and-10 from its own 37-yard line.
Two plays later, however, a shotgun halfback draw to James White went for all 69 yards between the line of scrimmage and the opposite end zone, White crossing the goal line as the clock hit 13 seconds left in the second quarter. Those were the first six of 24 unanswered Wisconsin points, as the Badgers simply steamrolled IU for the third consecutive season.
“It looked like a spread run, where a guy got caught,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said after the game. “That was one place where I thought we took some bad angles, and individually, we could do some things to keep the leverage on the ball. They played very well — that was a big play.”
Conversely, Indiana’s usually prolific pass offense was quieted for at least one weekend, as the Hoosiers fell well short of their season average with 233 yards through the air.
Neither sophomore Cam Coffman nor freshman Nate Sudfeld ever found a rhythm against a Badger defense that grabbed two interceptions off of the former and recovered a fumble by the latter.
“They’re a good defense,” Coffman said, “but we should be able to move the ball versus anybody, and we couldn’t get in a rhythm and really starting off slow and never really got it going.”
Indiana’s sixth loss is a body blow to a season that has, on the whole, turned out quite encouraging for Indiana. The Hoosiers had suffered their previous five losses by a total of just 25 points, including four of them by four points or less, before taking Saturday’s 48-point beating.
Wilson spoke at length after the game about his hope that Saturday’s debacle will not become the final memory of his seniors’ careers, as he feels many of them to be a big part of the reason why Indiana has turned its program in a more positive direction than most anticipated before the season began.
The Hoosiers can still qualify for a bowl game with wins in their last two games, and whatever their record in two weeks, the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game against Purdue appears more evenly matched than was believed in August.
Progress had been easier when games were closer, more competitive. The final challenge of the season for Wilson and his staff would now seem to come in wiping one very bad afternoon from his players’ minds, to regain control of a promising season.
“That might be the last game that those seniors had on that field, but we’ve gotten to a point where there’s a lot of great things happening to our program, because of those guys,” Wilson said. “Some of those guys are important in helping us get a little momentum going. I wanted to emphasize to our seniors, ‘This is not your last day on this field as a club player. We’ve come a long way and we appreciated you guys.’”
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