November 7, 2009

Badgers hang on for tight win over Indiana

BLOOMINGTON - Indiana was resilient to the fullest, never batted an eye and fought to the final whistle, but in the end it was Wisconsin that left Memorial Stadium on the right end of a 31-28 score.

But it was a victory that took one final, four-minute drive from the Badger offense to clinch.

Following a UW score that gave the Badgers a 10-point lead with over eight minutes to play, Indiana junior quarterback Ben Chappell led a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to cut the Hoosier deficit to three.

It was at that time that the haunting visions from 2008 reared their ugly heads for Wisconsin. It was a moment when the offense, which had been somewhat inconsistent in the second half was doomed to go three and out and give the ball back to a hot Indiana offense.

But, unlike the ghosts of seasons past, UW, led mostly by Montee Ball and a clutch Nick Toon (5 catches, 123 yards) in the second half, was able to run the clock completely out.

Game over.

"Montee Ball showed us he's going to be a bruiser," UW senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield said in regards to Ball's career best 117-yard performance. "He showed us some good things for the future of the program."

Looking through the statistics, it wouldn't take one long to notice the struggles from each team. The Badgers couldn't stop the pass and the Hoosiers couldn't stop the run.

By the end, Chappell threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns for the Hoosiers and the Badgers rushed for 300 yards collectively as a team.

"I had a feeling that this was going to be one of those where it was a four quarter game and we would have to hang on and do what we did," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "Unfortunately when you get those feelings as a head coach, you try to do everything you can to make sure it doesn't come to truth."

For Wisconsin, there were two drives that allowed them to leave the Hoosier state in a good mood. Following Indiana's first touchdown of the fourth quarter that cut UW's lead to three, Scott Tolzien led a motivated Badger drive down the field.

He began the drive with an 11-yard toss to Ball to get out past the IU 30 yard line. On the ensuing play, Tolzien ran for four yards on first down on a naked bootleg to set up a manageable second down. Then, following a Ball eight-yard rush, Tolzien hit Toon for a huge 44-yard gain.

On an afternoon where the wind was stiff and swirling throughout, the resiliency of Tolzien, who struggled at times, was huge. That big play eventually led to a touchdown, and a final tally the Hoosiers could not catch up to.

"If I could give Scotty a little counseling, it would be that he takes things too tough," Bielema said. "Everything he does, he wears on his sleeve. It's a team effort out there. He's out there with 10 other guys. He's got a group of coaches that are behind him…

"Scotty just does what he does. That's probably why he got the job. Whatever's in front of him, he just handles it."

In the end, Tolzien finished 11-of-20 for 194 yards and a touchdown. He did not take a sack and didn't throw any interceptions. He missed open targets on occasion, but he managed the game and helped UW get out with a win.

When UW took the field with just over four minutes to play, everyone dressed in the white uniform knew the game would be won with a couple of first down pickups. So, when the Badgers faced a third and eight with over two minutes left, there was no question Tolzien would be asked to pass.

On the play, he threw a dart to Toon who adjusted nicely to the pass and made a critical catch giving UW the first down needed to ice the game.

"Those are the kind of plays there at the end," Bielema said. "That could catapult him now for the rest of the season."

Though Ball closed out the game after John Clay suffered a minor concussion, it was a joint effort on the ground.

In the first half, Clay dominated the Hoosier defense. Before he was knocked out of the game, the sophomore had rushed 15 times for 134 yards and a touchdown.

Then, in the second half, it was Ball's turn to take over. By the end, Ball topped the 100-yard mark and established a new career high with 27 carries. He also scored two crucial touchdowns that kept the Badgers ahead.

"After every carry I was just smiling," Ball said. "I'm thanking my offensive line for making the holes and just playing Wisconsin football."

For Indiana, Saturday was just another game day that was close to being great, but just fell short. The loss drops the Hoosiers to 1-5 in league play, a number that could have been much better with a couple of breaks in their favor, particularly in four tough losses (Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin).

"Indiana's a very good football team who has suffered some very close losses," Bielema said. "Coach Bill Lynch is a tremendous football coach and their kids play hard. I knew when I was watching the film, and I told our coaches, a lot of times when you see teams in these situations, things just don't go well. But their kids play hard for four quarters every game.

"I can't say enough about the effort by Indiana."

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