The plot, a potential IU comeback, contradicted the past two weeks of IU collapses. The Hoosiers’ offense played out of character by scoring 14 fourth-quarter points.
And the story’s climax – a third-and-long play facing Wisconsin – seemed to favor IU. But the ending was the same it’s been for six of the last seven weeks – another loss.
While IU (4-6, 1-5) fell to last place in the Big Ten with the 31-28 loss to Wisconsin, it lost in a different fashion than its past two games.
Two weeks ago against Northwestern, IU gave up a 28-3 lead to lose 29-28. Last week, IU had a 10-point lead against then-No. 7 Iowa before losing 42-24. In the two games, IU was outscored 38-0 in the fourth quarter.
This week, the Hoosiers trailed at halftime, but managed to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns to have a reasonable chance to win the contest.
“The game was kind of reverse,” senior defensive end Jammie Kirlew said. “We didn’t come out as strong and aggressive as we usually do in the first half.”
Kirlew added that the Hoosiers played with more energy in the second half.
IU coach Bill Lynch compared this game to the previous two, saying that the flow of the game often dictates what happens.
“Unfortunately, we don’t get to script the game ahead of time,” Lynch said. “You just have to play it as it plays out.”
One play Lynch will remember was a third-and-8 Wisconsin’s offense faced with 2:35 remaining – if the Badgers converted the first down, they could run out the clock and win the game.
IU sent pressure on quarterback Scott Tolzien, but he connected with wide receiver Nick Toon for a 17-yard completion to seal the game.
Kirlew said the pivotal play came down to execution for both teams.
“We didn’t get there fast enough,” Kirlew said. “The coverage broke down a little bit, the quarterback looked up, saw the open guy and hit him.”
Prior to the play, IU appeared to be in position to win.
The Hoosiers entered the final quarter trailing 24-14 and had not scored a fourth-quarter point since Oct. 17 against Illinois.
IU quarterback Ben Chappell led an 11-play, 81-yard drive that culminated in a six-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Terrance Turner.
Following a Wisconsin touchdown by running back Montee Ball, Chappell marched the Hoosiers down the field again. Junior running back Trea Burgess scored on a fourth-and-goal, two-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 31-28.
Lynch said the players’ effort has always been there – even in the last two games ending in losses. The locker room mood following the game, he said, was somber.
“They are really hurting,” Lynch said. “That’s because they care and because they put a lot into it. As a group, we just came up short the last few weeks.”
Senior running back Bryan Payton, who stepped in for injured starter freshman Darius Willis in the second half, said IU’s story was close to ending with a win.
“We know we have the players to win. We’re this close,” Payton said. “We’re very close.”
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