But it didn’t matter.
The Hoosiers gave up 294 yards and three touchdowns on the ground en route to a 31-28 loss at Memorial Stadium.
Wisconsin running back John Clay – who did not play in the second half because of a concussion – had 134 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. His counterpart, Badger running back Montee Ball, carried the load while Clay was on the sideline.
The freshman rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on the afternoon.
Multiple defenders were often needed to bring down both running backs because of the size of Clay and Ball, who weigh in at 248 and 225 pounds, respectively.
“The thing about them is you really have to tackle them,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “You can get a first hit on them, but three yards later, it’s a first down. They are very physical, and they finish their runs very well.”
After the game, Lynch said Wisconsin’s second quarter was a major factor in the outcome.
“I thought they really controlled the first half,” Lynch said. “Early on, we played pretty well, but I thought they dominated the second quarter.”
In that 15-minute period, the Badgers had the ball for almost 10 minutes. In comparison, the Hoosiers had possession for 5:15.
Wisconsin gave the ball to Clay for seven of its nine plays before handing it off to Ball for a one-yard touchdown run in its second drive of the quarter.
With 2:32 remaining in the half and the score at 17-14 in favor of the Badgers, Wisconsin went to the ground again. Clay carried the ball two times for 24 yards before scampering into the end zone from 14 yards out.
Wisconsin’s running game did not slow down even after Clay was ruled out for the
remainder of the game.
Ball rushed for 85 yards in the final 30 minutes, routinely running down the clock and wearing down the IU defense. With 8:18 remaining in the game, Ball culminated a seven-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run.
“They are big guys,” IU senior safety Collin Taylor said. “They could be playing linebacker or defensive end and are tough. But we knew that. We knew going in it was going to be a war.”
And when the Hoosiers needed a defensive stop the most – down three points with just more than four minutes left – the Badgers’ tough running game continued.
Ball rushed eight times for 30 yards on their final drive, forcing IU to use all of its time-outs and providing no chance for a Hoosier comeback drive.
The effectiveness of Wisconsin’s running game also opened up its passing game, in which it successfully utilized the play-action fake for four quarters.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he was proud of the way his running backs set the tone Saturday.
“John Clay, in the first half, was a machine,” Bielema said. “Ball was kind of like the Energizer Bunny. Every time he got a rep, he just kept grinning, smiling and gaining momentum. Our kids did enough to win.”
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