Indiana Falls Short as Wisconsin Badgers Win, 45-17

Posted by on in Big Ten Conference Blog

Sometimes the other team is just better. As was the case Saturday.

But a "Breakthrough" also doesn't happen when you can't catch a break. Or make your own breaks.

Wisconsin won Saturday at Indiana and the No. 4-ranked, unbeaten Badgers certainly deserved to do so.

But the game wasn't as lopsided as the 45-17 final indicates, in part because the host Hoosiers again saw various balls bouncing the wrong way.

When Indiana fumbled the ball Saturday, it gift-wrapped the TD that gave Wisconsin the lead for good. When the Badgers fumbled – three times – they always got a friendly roll to retain possession.

Add two late IU interceptions leading to Badger TDs and ...

"It's about protecting the football and creating takeaways," IU coach Tom Allen said. "... We played a great football team today, but when you're minus in the takeaway ratio, you're not going to win.

"We didn't run the football well enough. That's for sure. We didn't stop the run well enough, for sure. But for me, it was all about takeaways."

IU got the game's first takeaway, an interception in the end zone by Tegray Scales set up by defensive tackle Jacob Robinson hitting Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook as Hornibrook threw.

But Wisconsin got every other takeaway that transpired, all leading directly to touchdowns -- part of the reason why after Indiana scored the first 10 points, Wisconsin scored the next 24.

A beautifully designed play, with IU's Devonte Williams going in motion opposite from the play-action, left him all alone for a 23-yard TD pass from Richard Lagow to open the scoring at 3:57 of the first.

After Griffin Oakes added his seventh straight field goal at 14:11 of the second quarter to make it 10-0, Wisconsin responded with a seven-play, 73-yard scoring march. Badger fullback Alec Ingold slipped out of the backfield to get wide-open for a catch from 18 yards out for the first of his three TDs on the day.

Then came the first big takeaway for Wisconsin with 7:02 left in the half.

IU freshman Morgan Ellison was initially ruled down after a short gain, but replay showed he'd lost possession of the ball before he was down.

Despite what Allen and IU players said post-game sounded like a whistle blowing the play dead while the ball was still loose, it was further ruled Wisconsin had managed a clean recovery at the 21 – with an unsportsmanlike-conduct call tacked on after protests from the Indiana sideline setting the Badgers up at the Hoosier 11.

"The big thing was a whistle was blown," Allen said, matter-of-factly. "That became the issue, but apparently they said it wasn't blown. So that's what I was told. That's all I know."

Hornibrook, despite taking another hit as he threw, completed an 8-yard TD toss to Quintez Cephus to give Wisconsin a 14-10 lead two snaps later.

Wisconsin then bumped the lead to a full TD with a field goal to start second-half scoring.

Jonathan Taylor, the tough freshman who leads the Big Ten in rushing and added 183 yards on 29 carries, followed with a 32-yard scoring romp that made it 24-10 at 5:47 of the third.

"He's a tough runner," IU linebacker Tegray Scales said of Taylor. "He doesn't go down on first contact. He just keeps his legs moving. He's a bigger back than what we've faced this year, so we had to do a better job of wrapping up. I also have to look myself in the mirror. I missed quite a few tackles today."

Scales still made 12 stops on the day. Senior classmate Chase Dutra had a game-high 15.

IU's offense really needed to respond and did. The Hoosiers went 65 yards in six plays to get back within a TD as Lagow and Simmie Cobbs Jr. connected for a 17-yard scoring pass – great pass and great catch, despite Wisconsin getting flagged for interference on the play.

A strip-sack from behind by Robert McCray III created a great opportunity for an IU takeaway on Wisconsin's subsequent drive, but the ball bounced right back to Hornibrook.

Still, the Indiana defense halted the drive as the fourth quarter began, so the Hoosiers got the ball back at their own 10, still down just 24-17, with 14:48 to play.

IU got a first down out to its 21, but a holding call created an obvious passing situation and disaster ensued. Lagow was hit before he could step fully into his throw and Joe Ferguson stepped in for an interception at the Hoosier 27.

Again, an IU takeaway opportunity went begging at that key juncture. Allen Stallings IV forced a fumble, but Wisconsin managed to get back on the ball at the Hoosier 12. Ingold scored from the 1 four snaps later to make it 31-17 with 10:15 left.

Then Lagow was intercepted for the second consecutive throw, this time a ball that went through Luke Timian's hands and was picked by a diving Joe Ferguson at the IU 33. An eight-snap possession ended with Ingold again scoring from the 1.

Wisconsin's last TD was set up as IU gambled on a 4th-and-8 at its own 27 but sustained a sack that gave the Badgers the ball back at the Hoosier 16, leading to a 1-yard scoring run by Brodrick Shaw.

Lagow finished a solid 20-of-34 for 226 yards and two TDs against the nation's No. 5-ranked defense (which entered Saturday permitting opponents just 12.9 points and 268 total yards per game), but had the two late interceptions. Even if both those plays had extenuating circumstances, Lagow said it was "look in the mirror" time post-game.

"Today, it's going to be 'look in the mirror' a little bit," Lagow said. "Costly penalties. Turnovers. It wasn't so much what they were doing on defense, but rather us shooting ourselves in the foot.

"Football is a hard game. Stuff happens. Everybody is out there trying their absolute hardest to win every Saturday."

Lagow, asked about the possession given to Wisconsin after Ellison's fumble that seemed to swing first-half momentum, gave his take on the call but made no excuses.

"It sounded like they ... blew the whistle on the field," Lagow said. "So we thought they were reviewing it just to see, you know, where the ball was going to be spotted. And then, obviously, it turned out they were over-turning it.

"Tough break, I guess. As I said, in football, you're going to get tough breaks, going to get penalties, turnovers – you've just got to bounce back from it. You can't point to that as a reason we lost the game. You can't leave it in a referee's hands."

And one can't leave loose balls on the turf.

"You've got to get it," Dutra said of the fumbles. "No matter what. Claw, scrape, scratch – you've got to get the ball. If it's on the ground, it's ours. Today, we couldn't capitalize on it. Today, we had two chances in the second half to get the ball and didn't get it."

Wisconsin (9-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play) did a good job of capitalizing on its chances in terms of fumble recoveries and red-zone opportunities. But coach Paul Chryst said his Badgers knew they'd been in a battle.

"We knew going in this was going to be a challenging game. We have a lot of respect for what Coach Allen is doing. As we watched and prepared for it, I felt like (Indiana) was a really good team and I still feel that."

But the Hoosiers still sit at 3-6 and remain winless in conference play after a schedule gauntlet that featured a trio of Top 5-ranked teams when IU faced them. And another ranked foe in Michigan and Michigan State.

Indiana knows it must win all three of its remaining regular-season games, starting with next week's visit to Illinois, if it is to make its third straight bowl.

Allen knows his team still has goals worthy of pursuit. IU can still make a bowl – and hasn't won one since 1991. But no more setbacks can arise.

"I feel good about getting our guys in the right mindset," Allen said about preparing for that stretch run. "We've just got to physically get ourselves healed up so we can have a strong finish. But, yeah, it's definitely a tough mental battle you find yourself in.

"Sometimes life is not fair. Sometimes things happen, but you've got to learn to really fight through as a man, as a leader of your home. So I think it's a great precursor to their future.

"We're going to teach them about life. And I believe they're going to finish really well. I think this team will be remembered as a team that played a very, very difficult schedule but finished well."