When it mattered most, IU’s defense stood tall.
In its lowest scoring game of the season, No. 12 IU relied on its defense to stop the run and held on for a 14-6 win against No. 16 Wisconsin.
Before the game, IU head coach Tom Allen picked “prove” as the word of the week.
“You want to have an edge, you want to be hungry and you want to be focused,” Allen said in a postgame Zoom. “That’s the mindset of our whole program. And within that edge, you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, something to prove.”
One week after losing sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and entering the game against Wisconsin as 13.5-point underdogs, IU came away with a win after proving itself once again.
With less than a minute left in the game and up eight points, Wisconsin had a chance to score and tie the game. Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz took one last shot toward the endzone on fourth down. It was broken up by junior cornerback Reese Taylor.
On the sidelines, Allen and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack embraced.
“He did a phenomenal job,” Allen said. “All the credits to Kane and our staff.”
It was the third trip Wisconsin took to the red zone all game. For the third time, IU’s defense was able to prevent a touchdown. The first two trips both resulted in field goals shorter than 30 yards.
“Our defense just has a mindset of they’re not going to cross this line,” junior linebacker Micah McFadden said. “No matter how many yards they get, no matter how long this drive is gonna be, we’re holding them to a field goal or no points at all.”
In contrast, IU’s offense continued its red zone success, converting both trips into touchdowns.
The first was a one-yard pass to junior tight end Peyton Hendershot. The second was a seven-yard pass that sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle dropped in to senior receiver Whop Philyor in the back corner of the end zone.
“We did a great job taking advantage of our opportunities in the red zone,” Tuttle said. “We executed the plays.”
Despite being outgained by 125 yards, the offense’s efficiency proved the difference maker.
The game was especially controlled by the defenses in the first half. Tuttle and Mertz had 71 and 70 passing yards respectively.
With Tuttle under center in his first career start, IU turned to a more conservative style of play calling, refraining from downfield passes. Instead, IU pounded the ball on the ground and threw shorter check down passes, gaining yards in small chunks.
IU’s longest play of the game was a 35-yard jump ball catch by senior receiver Ty Fryfogle, the only play that went for longer than 20 yards.
As the game continued, Tuttle seemed to get more comfortable in the pocket. He stood tall against Wisconsin’s rush and took three hits after throws.
The defense forced two turnovers, extending its Football Bowl Series lead with 17 interceptions on the year.
Sophomore cornerback Tiawan Mullen strip-sacked Mertz late in the first quarter, giving IU the possession that would lead to its first touchdown.
“I knew he didn’t see me and I knew I had a clean shot,” Mullen said. “For me, I wanted to execute and get him on the ground, get the ball out.”
The defense stood up to Wisconsin’s run game, holding a team that averaged 220 rush yards a game to 140 rush yards. The longest Badger rush was only 20 yards.
“As a collective group, we played a good game,” McFadden said. “Held them to six points, which was huge.”
As the players ran off the field, they praised their coach on national television and called him the best coach in the nation.
When Allen and Tuttle finished the post game interview, they embraced. Even after taking the headphones off, it was easy to hear Allen celebrating.