Big Ten: Badgers-Hoosiers-111012


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema addressed his team Friday night, he read a list of approximately 20 teams that recently had been among the nation's elite but had fallen on hard times.

Teams like Wisconsin. Teams with worse records than the Badgers.

"The one thing I've constantly got to be aware of as a head coach is the temperature of my team, what are they feeling," Bielema said. "They were unranked and lost a heartbreaker to Michigan State. But what I was trying to stress was the character of this room would show [Saturday]. ... I rattled off a bunch of BCS teams that are in the thick of it but are 6-3 or [worse]. I wanted to remind them that teams either quit, or they battle forward.

"Obviously, they answered the bell today."

Wisconsin's road back to Indianapolis has been filled with obstacles this season, but the final leg proved to be surprisingly easy as the Badgers ensured they'll be back at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 1. Behind a dominant offensive line and a stable of dominant running backs, led by Montee Ball, Wisconsin crushed Indiana 62-14 at Memorial Stadium.

A program known for its ground game piled up more rushing yards (564) than it ever has before, tying for the sixth-highest total in Big Ten history and the highest in a league game since 1975 (Michigan, 573 yards). Little about Wisconsin's offense resembled the record-setting units of 2010 and 2011, but it felt like old times Saturday as the Badgers, despite playing with their third starting quarterback (Curt Phillips), took control immediately and never looked back.

Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2) looked like Wisconsin. And Indiana (4-6, 2-4) looked like Indiana.

"It did a little bit," said tight end Sam Arneson, who recorded his first career touchdown on his second career catch on Wisconsin's second possession. "When you're rolling and they can't really slow you down, it feels pretty good."

As much turmoil as Wisconsin has been through this season -- nearly being shut out at Oregon State, firing offensive line coach Mike Markuson after two games, enduring a miscommunication at the end of the Nebraska game, losing top quarterback Joel Stave in the Michigan State loss -- the Badgers found a way to fulfill the consensus preseason expectation of reaching Indianapolis. They've lost three games by a total of nine points, dominated the teams they were supposed to beat and, at times, looked like the team we'd grown accustomed to seeing the past two years.

Wisconsin beat Indiana 83-20 in 2010 and 59-7 last year. The Hoosiers, while exposed Saturday, are undoubtedly a better team, and Wisconsin still rolled.

"This is the group I've coached for seven years," Bielema said. "I know this record may not be as high as it has in years past, or our ranking, but we're a really good football team."

[+] EnlargeCurt Phillips
AP Photo/Darron CummingsQuarterback Curt Phillips did his share to help Wisconsin in his first career start on Saturday.
The Badgers looked like it Saturday, mounting eight-play touchdown drives on their first two possessions. Even when Indiana showed some life in the second quarter, Wisconsin removed any doubt as James White raced in from 69 yards out on third-and-16.

And while Wisconsin didn't put too much on Phillips' shoulders, the senior made some nice contributions in his first career start, namely a fourth-down conversion early in the second quarter and a 52-yard run to set up a field goal. Phillips has overcome three ACL surgeries since the spring of 2010.

"The plan was to not put a lot on Curt," Bielema said. "And obviously it worked very, very well."

After finishing with 19 net rush yards in the Michigan State loss, Wisconsin averaged 8.8 yards per attempt Saturday, nearly setting another team mark (8.91 yards per carry against Hawaii in 1996).

"It's the same formula we've had any time we've run the ball successfully," guard Ryan Groy said. "It's getting on blocks, being assignment-sound, and it's finishing. It's simple concepts, but it's everybody doing their part."

Ball certainly did his share Saturday, rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 27 attempts in three quarters of work. The senior passed Ricky Williams and moved into sole possession of second place on the NCAA's all-time touchdowns list with 77, one shy of Miami University's Travis Prentice.

The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist has been at his best during the stretch run, averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. He has been pretty good in the Hoosier State -- 445 rush yards, six touchdowns against Purdue and Indiana -- and gets one final opportunity Dec. 1 in Indy.

"I didn't even think about that," Ball said, smiling. "Yeah, glad to get back to Indianapolis."

Wisconsin will return to Lucas Oil, but it'll have an asterisk if it doesn't beat Ohio State and Penn State to share the Leaders Division title. If you think the Badgers will pack it in these last two weeks, you're sadly mistaken. Despite Saturday's result, Ball said Wisconsin is "still searching" for a statement win.

Next week against undefeated Ohio State would be the perfect time.

"Certain teams are handicapped, but we want to make sure that we go to Indy because we won every game," Ball said. "That's what we're going to try to fight for."

Indiana is left to fight for bowl eligibility and needs two road wins (Penn State, Purdue) to get there. Despite a very real chance to reach Indianapolis, Indiana showed how far it still must go on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with overthrows and Indiana had just two first downs in the first quarter, the kiss of death for an up-tempo spread offense. The defense showed a bit of life in the second quarter but had no answer for Ball, White (161 rush yards, 2 TDs) and Melvin Gordon (96 rush yards, 1 TD).

"They are a great team," Hoosiers defensive lineman Adam Replogle said. "We knew what they were. It's Wisconsin."

The Wisconsin of old showed up Saturday.

If the same product shows up in the coming weeks, the Badgers' difficult road could lead back to Pasadena.

Video: Wisconsin RB Montee Ball

November, 10, 2012
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Wisconsin running back Montee Ball talks about his 198-yard rushing performance against Indiana and getting back to the Big Ten title game.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Wisconsin has been dominant in two games played on Indiana soil. After Saturday's 62-14 drubbing of Indiana, the Badgers have earned a third trip back to the Hoosier State -- for the Big Ten title game on Dec. 1.

Here's a quick look back at Wisconsin's win ...

It was over when: James White broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run on third-and-16 with 13 seconds left in the first half. Wisconsin appeared content to run out the clock following an Indiana touchdown, but White scooted into the open field behind terrific blocking and delivered the death knell to the Hoosiers.

Game ball goes to: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. The senior established himself early and often and put on a clinic against the overmatched Hoosiers defense. Ball had 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, averaging 7.3 yards per rush. He moved into sole possession of second place on the NCAA's all-time touchdown list with 77.

Stat of the game: Wisconsin ran and ran and ran some more. A program known for its rushing offense never rushed for more yards than it did Saturday, racking up 564. Melvin Gordon gave Wisconsin the record on a 17-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The team's previous high was 551 yards against Northwestern in 1974.

Best call: Wisconsin opted to go for a fourth-and-2 on its opening possession of the second half, and Curt Phillips stood his ground despite the rush and found fullback Derek Watt in the flat for a 17-yard gain. Wisconsin repeatedly attacked the edges, where Indiana is weak, and maintained momentum with the conversion. Ball scored three plays later to give Wisconsin a 31-7 lead.

What it means: Wisconsin is back in the Big Ten title game for the second straight year despite a turbulent season on offense that included three starting quarterbacks for the first time since 1987. These Badgers aren't as good as they were the past two seasons, but they looked the part Saturday. After beating Indiana 59-7 and 83-20 the past two years, Wisconsin continued its dominance of the Hoosiers. It was a reality check for Indiana, an improved team but one that shouldn't be playing for a league title so early in its development. The Hoosiers needed a much stronger start on offense to keep pace with the Badgers, but quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld looked rattled from the start. Kevin Wilson's team now must sweep its final two games (at Penn State, at Purdue) to become bowl-eligible. Although Indiana's program is on the rise, there's still a long way to go to challenge the Big Ten's upper half.

Unsung hero: Phillips' teammates picked him up big-time in his first career start at quarterback, but the senior made some nice throws and showcased decent mobility despite having three ACL surgeries since the spring of 2010. He completed 4 of 7 passes, including the big fourth-down throw to Watt and a touchdown strike to Sam Arneson. He also had a 52-yard run up the gut in the third quarter and finished with 68 yards on seven carries.

Video: Wisconsin-Indiana pregame

November, 10, 2012
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Adam Rittenberg previews Saturday's pivotal Leaders Division game between Wisconsin and Indiana in Bloomington.

It's game day at IU's Memorial Stadium

November, 10, 2012
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Since its inception in 2008, the Big Ten blog has covered games at 11 of the league's 12 stadiums. Today, we complete the set.

While I couldn't have predicted in August that I'd be here covering a pivotal Leaders division game, nothing has gone according to plan this season in the Big Ten. Wisconsin can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis with a victory today, while a surprising Indiana team can put itself in the driver's seat by beating the Badgers. Indiana hasn't won three consecutive Big Ten games since 1993. Although second-year coach Kevin Wilson wants to keep his players focused on daily improvement, this is the biggest game they've played at IU. Should be fun.

It has been a season of transition for Wisconsin's offense, and there will be more today as Curt Phillips gets the nod at quarterback. Phillips beat out Danny O'Brien for the job after starter Joel Stave suffered a season-ending broken clavicle Oct. 27 against Michigan State. Coach Bret Bielema discussed the Phillips decision Thursday.

Wisconsin hasn't had three different starting quarterbacks in a season since 1987 ((Bud Keyes, Tony Lowery, Otis Flowers). Phillips is a great story, having overcome three ACL tears to keep playing. He competed for the starting job in 2009 before the injuries began. He had good mobility before the injuries, so it will be interesting to see how he moves around today. Phillips hasn't attempted a pass in a game since 2009 and is 7-for-12 passing for 65 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in his career. His teammates will need to pick him up today.

Indiana's quarterback situation also will be worth watching. The Hoosiers have had success rotating Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman played well last week against Iowa, while Sudfeld has been the more effective player off of the bench at times. The Hoosiers boast arguably the Big Ten's top wide receiver corps, led by Cody Latimer, so Wisconsin's secondary will be tested.

It's a gorgeous fall day with a bit of a breeze to the north. Great tailgating scene around the stadium, but the crowd size will be something to watch.

Keep it here for much more on Wisconsin-Indiana.

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