The Wisconsin Badgers withstood a test from a feisty Indiana Hoosiers squad on Saturday afternoon, eventually pulling away with 21 unanswered points during an impressive fourth quarter in a 45–17 win in Bloomington, Ind.
Now 9–0, this Wisconsin squad has equaled the 1998 and 2004 teams in having the best start in the modern era.
The offense imposed its will on Indiana’s defense, especially in the fourth quarter with a back-up fullback netting a hat trick of touchdowns on the day. UW’s defense held an Indiana offense priding itself on being fast-paced to just 55 plays while recording multiple interceptions and sacks of Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow.
As Jon Beidelschies, who normally takes on the grades here, is “on assignment,” I will take on these responsibilities for this week.
I’ll also assign grades based on the system I experienced as an undergrad in Madison. #Authenticity
This was a definite step forward for the unit after a lackluster performance in Champaign a week ago. The unit amassed 407 yards on the afternoon, including 237 on the ground. Jonathan Taylor gained 183 yards on 29 carries with a 32-yard touchdown. Fullback Alec Ingold was a scoring machine, registering three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
With Indiana allowing just over 30 percent of opponents’ third downs to be converted, UW moved the chains on eight of 15 opportunities on that down.
Wisconsin also responded after the loss of wide receiver Quintez Cephus. Just based off of the replays and his emotional sideline reaction, it will bear watching the injury report on Monday and who continues to step up at that position (see: Kendric Pryor, A.J. Taylor, and Danny Davis) moving forward.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 65 percent of his passes and threw for two touchdown passes, though his first-quarter, red-zone interception took points off the board (credit the latter to being pressured off the right side). There were some holding penalties called that stunted the rhythm of the offense.
The second and third offensive series by Indiana allowed Tom Allen’s team to take an early 10-point lead in the second quarter, with some rushing success and a passing game taking advantage of pass interference calls against cornerback Nick Nelson.
Wisconsin picked it up thereafter, holding Indiana to 266 yards altogether with a pair of walk-ons in Joe Ferguson (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and Tyler Johnson (one forced fumble) stepping in. More on them later.
Redshirt senior defensive end Alec James is on [fire emoji] this season, adding 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss on the afternoon. Wisconsin recorded four sacks altogether, with another 1.5 from outside linebacker Leon Jacobs. That’s 31 sacks through nine games.
Indiana wasn’t going to run with much success on Saturday, only averaging about 124 yards a game coming in. Wisconsin held the Hoosiers to 40 yards on the ground, the fifth time in its nine wins this season UW has held teams under 100 yards rushing.
Special Teams: B-BC
It was an alright day for these units. Redshirt junior kicker Rafael Gaglianone converted a 21-yard field goal, which makes him 9-for-11 on the season.
Cornerback Derrick Tindal provided some intrigue as a kickoff returner, averaging 26.7 yards per attempt with a long of 39 yards.
Kicker Zach Hintze turned eight kickoffs into three touchbacks, with the Hoosiers never having great field position after the Badgers put points on the board. He did, however, boot a kick out of bounds.
Both walk-on Connor Allen and Anthony Lotti recorded a punt inside the 20. Allen recorded a 48-yard boot but averaged 40.7 on the day.
Nelson muffed a punt and only gained a yard on two punt returns.
Walk-ons: A hyperbolic A++++++++++++++++++
What? You knew this had to be part of my analysis. Like in most seasons, where would Wisconsin be without these unheralded players (both current and former walk-ons) stepping up? This season has been no exception.
Ferguson plugs in for the injured D’Cota Dixon and continues an impressive fifth year by reeling in those two interceptions. The Madison Memorial product and grandson of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez now leads the team in that category. Those who saw spring and fall camp practices saw his ability to be around the ball at opportune times. It’s paying off this year.
Johnson’s forced fumble in the second quarter led to Wisconsin going ahead for the first time in the game, and his pressure on Lagow led to Ferguson’s first pick.
Inside linebacker Ryan Connelly led the team in tackles (six). Running back Garrett Groshek’s stats may not look pretty (nine rushes, 23 yards) but he has stepped in as a solid change of pace and back-up to Taylor. Oh yeah, preseason All-American tight end Troy Fumagalli caught three passes for 20 yards as well.