The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (2-2) struggled for the second-straight game, scoring single-digits behind a floundering offense, losing 14-6 to No. 12 Indiana (6-1). Despite leading in time of possession, 35:08 - 25:52, Wisconsin’s 342 total yards of offense weren’t enough, as the Badgers could not finish drives, scoring on only two of its nine drives.
Entering the game, Indiana was without its starting quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., who tore his ACL this past weekend. The Hoosiers turned to sophomore Jack Tuttle, who made his first collegiate start. Tuttle, who finished the game 13-of-22 for 130 yards and two touchdowns, did just enough to help the Hoosiers pick up the victory on the road.
Indiana, who had been averaging just over 32 points per contest leading up to its game with Wisconsin, finished with just 217 total yards of offense and was four-of-10 on third down conversions.
Following the first scoreless first quarter of the season in the Big Ten, Indiana got on the board following a fumble by Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. The fumble was one of two turnovers by the freshman quarterback, who was 20-of-34 for 202 yards and an interception.
After the fumble, Tuttle led the Hoosiers on a 12-play, 53 yard drive which ended in a one-yard touchdown pass to Peyton Hendershot.
Wisconsin responded to the Hoosiers score with it’s own scoring drive, a 12-play, 81 yard drive, spanning seven minutes. However, Wisconsin was unable to find the endzone, and ended the drive with a 29-yard Collin Larsh field goal. During the drive, Wisconsin got a big 19-yard rush by Jalen Berger, but then decided to move away from Berger following the big play, with a three-yard carry by Mason Stokke and a one-yard rush by Garrett Groshek. Facing third-and-six, Mertz’s pass was incomplete to Kendric Pryor in the end zone, leading to the field goal.
Indiana next got on the board following halftime on its first drive of the second half. This time the drive ended with Tuttle finding Whop Philyor in the end zone, for a seven-yard touchdown completion. The drive spanned seven plays for 75 yards. The biggest play of the drive was a 35-yard completion from Tuttle to Ty Fryfogle.
Fryfogle, who has been a force for Indiana this season, including back-to-back 200-yard games, was held in check by the Wisconsin defense, with only the one reception.
Following the Indiana score, with Wisconsin down two scores, Mertz committed his second turnover of the game. This time, Mertz was intercepted by Jamar Johnson. The interception, Indiana’s seventeenth of the season, which leads the NCAA, also moved Indiana’s streak of forcing two or more turnovers per game, to nine games, which is a school record.
Wisconsin then quickly answered forcing an Indiana turnover, a Tuttle fumble, which was recovered by Nick Herbig, on a QB sneak on third-and-one. Wisconsin followed the turnover with another long drive, this time of 12 plays and 52 yards, however, once again Wisconsin was unable to find the endzone, opting for a 28-yard field goal by Larsh.
Wisconsin then forced a three-and-out by Indiana on the Hoosiers ensuing drive and seemed to be off to the races, with back-to-back runs by Berger amassing 22 and eight yards, respectfully. In the game, Berger rushed 15 times for 87 yards.
However, following the two rushes, Wisconsin once again move away from Berger as he did not touch the ball over the remaining seven plays of the drive, which ended in a punt.
Wisconsin’s decision to punt in this situation likely hinged on the fact that Tuttle had just made his way into the locker room, leaving Indiana with its third-string quarterback, true freshman Dexter Williams, as its next option.
Tuttle looked as though he may not have been coming back to the game after taking a big hit from Jack Sanborn, which was initially ruled as a targeting, but was overturned. Sanborn, who posted a career-high 14 tackles against Northwestern, posted a team-high nine tackles, along with Leo Chenal who also accumulated nine tackles.
Had Williams entered the game, Wisconsin could potentially punt the ball away with 8:50 remaining in regulation and have a chance to pin Indiana and force a punt or better against a true freshman, and end up with favorable field position.
However, following the punt, Tuttle came back onto the field and directly into the huddle and while Wisconsin was able to hold the Hoosiers to a punt, the Hoosiers were able to go on a four minute drive, eating away about half of the remaining time. Wisconsin was then pinned at its own eight-yard-line, following a 51-yard punt by Haydon Whitehead.
With 92 yards to go and only 4:40 remaining, Wisconsin mounted a drive that featured some big plays, such as a 22-yard completion from Mertz to Jack Eschenbach and an 18-yard rush by Mertz.
However, Wisconsin lost steam and stumbled as it got further down the field.
After converting a third-and-one, with a Nakia Watson three-yard rush, Mertz was sacked and then threw back-to-back incompletions — one to Jake Ferguson on third down and another to Chimere Dike in the end zone, causing a turnover-on-downs to end Wisconsin’s chances.
The Badgers are scheduled to travel to Iowa City next weekend to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes, who rallied to beat Illinois on Saturday.