Indiana football has held the lead at halftime just twice this season, the last coming against the University of Akron on Sept. 23. But when the Hoosiers jogged to the locker room at the conclusion of the first half against Wisconsin, they found themselves in an unfamiliar situation — leading a Power Five team at the break.
Coming off a narrow defeat at the hands of Penn State on Oct. 28 — a game in which Indiana had an opportunity to tie the game in the fourth quarter — the Hoosiers entered Saturday needing a victory to remain in postseason contention.
“It’s a higher sense of urgency,” sixth-year senior captain linebacker Aaron Casey said postgame. “We look at these games as playoff games. We know we have to win out to go to the postseason.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brendan Sorsby went 13-of-20 for 141 yards alongside a passing and rushing touchdown, commanding the offense to a 17-point opening half in which the Hoosiers gained 225 total yards. Although Indiana seemingly moved the ball at will in the first half, it wasn’t a sign of what was to come.
The offense, in its third game led by offensive coordinator Rod Carey, was lackluster in the second half. Sorsby managed to go six-of-11 for 45 yards with just a 50-yard field goal to show.
“I gotta be better in the second half you know, obviously I didn’t turn the ball over this week,” Sorsby said postgame. “Each week, I just got to continue to just get better with my reads and trust what I see.”
With the offense being forced to punt on four of their five drives in the second half, Indiana’s defense needed a stellar showing to make up for the offense’s blunders. Mix freshman defensive back Jordan Shaw’s breakout performance with veteran defenders in Casey and sixth-year senior defensive lineman Andre Carter, and the result became five consecutive stops, netting a victory.
Casey’s sack on third down nearly a minute into the fourth quarter forced the Badgers to subsequently take a delay of game penalty and punt the ball back to Indiana. With the Hoosiers’ offense blundering, their defense continuously stood tall, holding Wisconsin to 53 yards in the final frame.
Less than three minutes later, Casey forced a fumble near midfield, giving the Hoosiers the ball at Wisconsin’s 44-yard line. Indiana proceeded to go three-and-out, but its defense forced the Badgers to do the same. The Hoosiers’ offense dominated time of possession in the first half with nearly 21 minutes compared to the Badgers’ nine, in turn allowing the defense to remain fresh for the final half.
“Those lack of reps in the first half really paid dividends,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said postgame. “Allowed us to keep coming back. We don’t care. We don’t blink. It’s our expectation to get the stop or a takeaway, that’s all we’re talking about.”
Casey continued an impressive showing with a tackle for no gain to begin Wisconsin’s first drive following the fumble. The drive eventually resulted in the Badgers punting, in large part due to Casey forcing them into second and long alongside Shaw’s pass breakup on 3rd and 2.
“(Shaw) got his biggest taste last week,” Allen said. “Made some big plays and so we made the decision to have him start as our husky because of the style of offense we were going to play today. He rose up.”
While Indiana’s offense followed up Shaw’s crucial play with a three-and-out, Casey was there once again when the Hoosiers needed him most. The Badgers began their subsequent drive gaining 20 yards over the first few plays, entering the Hoosiers’ territory. Casey made another tackle for loss to force another second and long, ultimately leading to a turnover on downs.
Indiana junior kicker Chris Freeman tacked on a 50-yard field goal with one minute and 10 seconds remaining to give the Hoosiers a 20-14 advantage. While Wisconsin’s offense had been shut down in the fourth quarter, it had a chance to redeem itself.
Once again, Casey made his way into the Badgers’ backfield with his second and final sack of the afternoon. The Hoosiers forced another fumble as time expired to cap off the victory.
While Indiana staved off postseason elimination Saturday, it will be facing elimination again next week when it makes the trip to Champaign, Illinois, on Nov. 11 to take on Illinois.
“The goal is to be 1-0 after each week,” Allen said. “That’s been the focus, the playoff mentality. We know we got to win each week. We don’t talk beyond whoever is next.”