Badgers report card: Waterproof offense trumps Hoosiers

You won’t find many games across college football that featured the type of dominance found during Wisconsin’s 51-3 annihilation of Indiana on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Sure, some scores have been more lopsided this season. But considering the numbers Indiana’s offense put up before Saturday, it made the Badgers’ performance even more astounding.

Wisconsin held Indiana 40 points and 303 yards below its season average in those categories. Meanwhile, the Badgers ran all over the Hoosiers, finishing with 554 yards rushing.

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 in Big Ten play) travels to face Minnesota on Saturday in one of the biggest rivalry games in years. Given the way both teams are playing, it should make for one heck of an atmosphere.

Before we get there, however, let’s hand out grades for Wisconsin’s performance in Game 10 against Indiana:

Passing offense: C

There really isn’t much to grade on here because Wisconsin had little reason to throw the ball in miserable conditions on Saturday. The Badgers destroyed Indiana in the run game, so quarterback Joel Stave only attempted 15 passes — his fewest in a game this season.

Stave finished 7 of 15 for 122 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The biggest disappointment of the day — and there weren’t many in a 48-point blowout victory — was seeing receiver Jared Abbrederis’ catch streak end at 37 consecutive games. He fell one game short of tying Lee Evans’ program record of 38 straight games with a catch.

Stave’s seven completions tied for his fewest in a game he started in his career. He also completed 7 of 15 passes against Minnesota last season. On Saturday, he found tight end Jacob Pedersen three times for 92 yards. The rest went to running back James White (two for two yards), backup tight end Brock DeCicco (one for 16 yards) and backup receiver Jeff Duckworth (one for 12 yards).

Stave said the wind was one of the biggest factors in the team’s inability to throw as much as usual. A constant mist also made it difficult to grip the ball.

“It wasn’t obviously ideal passing conditions for either team,” he said. “I think that played into our favor a little more than theirs. We have the kind of offense where those kind of conditions don’t affect us too much.”

Despite a below average passing game, Stave still ranks fifth among Big Ten quarterbacks in passing yards per game (194.8), as well as fifth in passing efficiency.

Rushing offense: A-plus

Is there any other grade you can give for a team that runs for more yards in one game than any other FBS program has in a single contest this season? Wisconsin punished Indiana on the ground, carrying the ball 50 times for 554 yards — a yards-per-carry average of 11.1. The Badgers’ yard total was the second-highest in program history, behind only last year’s 564-yard rushing effort against Indiana.

James White began the day with a 93-yard touchdown run up the middle, which proved to be the longest run in program history. He broke a 50-year-old record established by Tom Bringham against Western Michigan on Sept. 21, 1963. White finished with a career-high 205 yards rushing and has 1,156 this season. He is the eighth player in school history to have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement got in on the action, too. Gordon rushed for 146 yards, while Clement added 108 in the second half. Receiver Jared Abbrederis, who didn’t record a catch, ran for 86 yards and scored the first two rushing touchdowns of his career.

“After (White) busted the 93-yarder, I knew it was going to be a long day for me,” Gordon said. “I was trying to catch him. It is a competition. But James played well. We all played well.”

Passing defense: A

Indiana entered Saturday’s game having thrown for at least 319 yards in six of nine games this season. The fact the Hoosiers barely reached one-third of that total speaks to just how dominant Wisconsin’s defense really was.

The quarterback combination of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson accomplished nothing in the passing game. Sudfeld completed 9 of 22 passes for 99 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The longest completion of the day went from Sudfeld to receiver Kofi Hughes for 38 yards in the third quarter. But Wisconsin eventually held Indiana out of the end zone and forced a field goal, which only cut the Hoosiers’ deficit to 30-3.

Roberson, meanwhile, completed 3 of 8 pass attempts for 23 yards.

Indiana, which thrives on utilizing an up-tempo offense, couldn’t sustain many drives. Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton intercepted Sudfeld on the first drive of the game, which helped set the tone. The Hoosiers faced several third-and-long situations and finished the game 3 of 12 on third downs.

Wisconsin players said afterward that playing a number of quick-paced teams already helped tremendously against Indiana. One week earlier, the Badgers stifled BYU, which averaged close to 90 plays a game.

“I feel like the games that we’ve played before have prepared us for where we are now,” Badgers defensive end Ethan Hemer said. “But I think that coaches and players alike all have a better understanding of what it takes to play against high-power offenses that run that kind of tempo. I think that it showed on the field today that we’ve come up with a formula that’s been able to be pretty successful.”

Rushing defense: A

During a 52-35 victory against Illinois one week earlier, Indiana rushed for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Against Wisconsin, Indiana gained 102 yards and was held out of the end zone.

Indiana faced a daunting task from the start because standout running back Tevin Coleman did not play against the Badgers. He suffered a sprained ankle in the Illinois game, which left backup Stephen Houston as the primary runner on Saturday. Houston carried 15 times for 61 yards. But Wisconsin also did a nice job dealing with Tre Roberson, who is a mobile threat at quarterback. Roberson ran five times and gained a total of 13 yards.

The best moment for Wisconsin’s defense — and there were plenty — came with the Badgers ahead 30-0 in the third quarter. Indiana had a first-and-goal from Wisconsin’s 1-yard line and could not punch the ball into the end zone. Hoosiers running backs Stephen Houston and D’Angelo Roberts were stuffed for no gain on the first two plays. Indiana then was flagged for a delay of game, and Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw an incomplete pass on third down.

Indiana had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Mitch Ewald — the Hoosiers’ only points of the game.

“That was big,” Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. “That’s not their cup of tea. They don’t like running the ball in short yardage situations. We knew we could realistically get a goal line stand there and it came to fruition, so that was good to see.”

Special teams: B-plus

Wisconsin loses half a letter grade here because punt returner Kenzel Doe continued his struggles handling punts. Doe fumbled a punt early in the second quarter and was fortunate teammate Nate Hammon was there to pounce on the ball. At the time, Wisconsin led 20-0, but Indiana would have taken possession inside the Badgers’ red zone.

Jared Abbrederis replaced Doe on punt returns the rest of the game and handled himself just fine. Abbrederis, who is one of the top punt return men in program history, was in primarily for ball security and fair catches.

Beyond Doe’s fumble, there wasn’t much to pick at for Wisconsin’s special teams. Kicker Jack Russell had a career day with a 3-for-3 performance on field goals. He has made his last five field goal attempts over the past two games after starting his career 0 for 4.

Andrew Endicott did his job on kickoff duty, handling nine of them during the game. Three kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Punter Drew Meyer also performed well, hitting three balls for an average of 39.0 yards per punt. Many of Meyer’s punts this season have been of the pooch variety with Wisconsin beyond midfield. On Saturday, he pinned one punt inside the 20-yard line and just missed another, sending it into the end zone for a touchback.

Overall: A

This was about as dominant a performance as you will see from Wisconsin in any year. The Badgers’ 676 yards of total offense ranked as the second-highest in school history, as did the 554 rushing yards.

Defensively, Wisconsin held Indiana 40 points below its season average. The Hoosiers had their streak of 10 consecutive games scoring at least 28 points snapped. And it was their first game without a touchdown in two years.

Wisconsin may not garner the national love it deserves in the polls, but this Badgers team is putting together a special season. Fans should really enjoy what is taking place, even if Wisconsin winds up just outside a BCS bowl game.

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