Wisconsin’s best offensive performance in 95 years came without its biggest offensive threat.
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The Badgers showed just how deep and talented they are even without running back John Clay, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Montee Ball ran for three touchdowns in his first career start, James White ran for two more and Scott Tolzien threw for three as No. 6 Wisconsin routed Indiana 83-20 on Saturday.
”We still have the same linemen in there,” left tackle Gabe Carimi said. ”We’re creating the holes, it’s not just the running backs.”
Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1) put up the most points by an FBS school this season and matched the highest scoring total by a team in a Big Ten conference game since Ohio State’s 83-21 victory over Iowa in 1950. For the Badgers, it was the most points since an 85-0 win in 1915 over in-state rival Marquette.
Ball ran for 167 yards and White added 144 yards in place of Clay, who missed the first game of his career after spraining his right knee in last Saturday’s win at Purdue.
The offensive line, even without starting center Peter Konz, kept opening up holes for the backup backs.
”They were really big. You could drive a truck through them. When the holes are that big, all us running backs have to do is just run through them and make somebody miss and just get down the field,” White said. ”It’s our job to go out and execute and it’s their job to stop us, so if they can’t stop us, so be it.”
Indiana (4-6, 0-6) kept it close for a quarter, but quarterback and team leader Ben Chappell left late in the first half favoring his left knee and hip. Chappell said he hurt the hip and it got progressively worse.
”I just got twisted up,” he said.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is hoping to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000, and certainly has an eye-popping performance to lean on.
”You don’t think that a team is going to score 83 points in conference play,” said Aaron Henry, who scored a defensive touchdown for the Badgers with a 37-yard interception return in the fourth quarter. ”To go out there and make a statement like we did is definitely sending a statement to the rest of the conference that Wisconsin is coming to play every week.”
If the Badgers, Michigan State and Ohio State all win out, the Big Ten representative will be the highest-ranked team in the BCS ratings. Wisconsin was two spots ahead of the Buckeyes and four over the Spartans going into Saturday’s action.
Wisconsin was back at home for the first time since beating then-No. 1 Ohio State on Oct. 16, and the Badgers picked right up where they left off at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers scored on all 12 possessions beginning when Ball carried the ball five straight times for 50 yards to make it 7-0 on a 1-yard TD run.
Indiana managed to tie it at 7-7 and again at 10-10 on a 2-yard TD pass from Chappell to Tandon Doss in the first quarter and Mitch Ewald’s 48-yard field goal early in the second.
”We got beat every way possible by a great football team. We knew Wisconsin was a great football team. We played a quarter and a half and really were playing pretty well and then Chappell gets hurt,” Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. ”We didn’t handle it very well.”
Indiana never found a way to stop the Badgers, who scored four times in the final 9:27 of the first half beginning with another 1-yard TD run by Ball that made it 17-10.
On Wisconsin’s next possession, Ball’s first run went for 36 yards and White scored on the next play from the 30 as the offensive line opened huge holes straight up the middle. White even had a blocker to spare, with right tackle Ricky Wagner running down the field unable to find another Hoosier to flatten.
The Badgers defense harassed a frustrated Chappell, who limped off favoring his left side and left later in the first half, finishing 8 of 14 for 63 yards, for Edward Wright-Baker.
It soon got a whole lot worse for the Hoosiers, who have lost 11 straight conference games and 14 in a row on the road.
Wright-Baker fumbled the handoff exchange with Trea Burgess on his first play, and Ball scored for the third time five plays later to make it 31-10. The Badgers tacked on one more score before halftime on Tolzien’s 4-yard TD pass to Nick Toon.
In the second half, Tolzien threw two more touchdown passes, White punched in another score and Henry had his interception return. Backup Jon Budmayr threw a 74-yard TD pass to Jared Abbrederis that made it 76-13 and third-string quarterback Nate Tice scored on a bootleg from 17 yards out.
Lynch didn’t believe Wisconsin tried to run up the score, something former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster accused Bret Bielema of earlier this season. ”I’ve always felt it was our job to stop the team and play the game,” Lynch said. ”We didn’t do that very well.”
Wisconsin beat FCS-member Austin Peay 70-3 this season, but this performance was much more impressive.
To put it in perspective, Wisconsin’s men’s basketball team failed to score 83 points in 30 of its 34 games last season, while the school’s mascot Bucky did 573 push-ups over the course of the game.