Badgers defense holds down potent Indiana offense
MADISON, Wis. -- Statistics suggested this year's Indiana football team possessed one of the best offenses Wisconsin would face in 2013. The Badgers had played only two other teams this season that averaged at least 40 points per game. Those two games resulted in losses to Arizona State and Ohio State.
And so, there appeared genuine reason for concern Saturday because Indiana's 43.1 points-per-game average had accumulated against some pretty good teams: Missouri, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota, among them.
"Trust me, this offense had us all worried," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen would say afterward. "And me a little bit petrified walking into this game because they are very, very talented on the offensive side of the football."
It turns out, Andersen had little reason to be nervous.
No. 17 Wisconsin's defense demolished Indiana's potent offense in a 51-3 rout at Camp Randall Stadium. The Hoosiers began the day having scored in 21 consecutive quarters but were held scoreless in the first half. The last time Indiana did not score a touchdown in a game occurred two years ago against Michigan State.
Wisconsin's defense continued a trend of dominance this season. The Badgers have not allowed a touchdown in five of their 10 games this season. They are averaging just 14.0 points surrendered per game, which ranks in the top five nationally.
Wisconsin also lowered its total defense marks from 294.9 yards per game to 288.3, which ranks in the top seven in the country.
"We're proud of what we've been able to accomplish, and we can still continue to play better," Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. "I know it sounds like a cliché or lip service, but I do think we can continue to play better."
The biggest -- and only -- real stand for Wisconsin's defense 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 huge," Badgers outside linebacker Brendan Kelly said. "We talked pregame. It doesn't matter what snap it is, if it's a field goal, if they're coming in for a touchdown. Every single play, it's realizing they're on our field and we have to bow up and hold our ground.
"That was great with the fans behind us, student section going crazy. We were getting hyped. That's one of my favorite parts of college football."
Punt return replacement: Wisconsin's Kenzel Doe has struggled to handle punts in recent weeks, and his issues continued Saturday. Doe fumbled a punt early in the second quarter on a rainy afternoon that was recovered by teammate Nate Hammon.
Jared Abbrederis replaced Doe for the rest of the game. Officially, Abbrederis returned two punts for 21 yards, but he was primarily in the game to handle fair catch opportunities.
The latest setback for Doe left questions about his role as the punt return man moving forward.
"Kenzel will get back in there," Andersen said. "He'll be fine. He bobbled around a little bit. The wet ball scenario was also something we sat down and talked about. Kenzel is a very prideful young man. I want him to be back there. I feel good about him being back there, and we'll continue to let him do that in those situations.
"But you get in that spot, we weren’t going to get a return. They were kicking the ball high. We wanted to fair catch it and Abby makes great decisions, as well as Kenzel does, too. It was just kind of this game, it went Abby's way."
Abbrederis said he spoke to Doe on the sideline to keep his spirits up.
"It's hard," Abbrederis said. "You just try to encourage him as much as you can. 'You're all right.' Things like that. You're still going to be upset whenever you make a mistake. You've got to do your best to let it go. Nobody's perfect. The weather out there wasn’t the best for that. He'll let that go and work at it and get better."
In addition to his punt return duties, Abbrederis contributed the first two rushing touchdowns of his career. He carried the ball three times for 86 yards but did not record a catch. It snapped a streak of 37 consecutive games in which Abbrederis had caught a pass, second in program history only to Lee Evans' mark of 38 straight games.
"I don’t really care about stats, things like that," Abbrederis said. "Win the game, I'm happy about that. We didn’t really need to throw. That’s all right."
Career day: Badgers kicker Jack Russell began his career with four consecutive missed field goal tries, including two this season. But the sophomore has rallied and made his last five attempts.
That included a 3-for-3 performance on Saturday. Russell hit kicks from 31, 36 and 26 yards on a windy and rainy day that made kicking more difficult than usual.
"It feels really good," Russell said. "It feels rewarding. All the hard work finally paying off. To have my best day of kicking ever felt good.
"I absolutely have a lot more confidence going into the game. A lot more comfortable out there when I was kicking. I really just try to make sure the weather conditions didn’t affect me too much. My holder and snapper, they played a great game."
Russell replaced Kyle French as Wisconsin's starting kicker four games ago against Illinois. He missed a 54-yard field goal attempt just before halftime against Iowa but made both his kicks last week against BYU to start his streak.
"I thought the snaps were good, the holds were good," Andersen said. "For him to be able to get the ball, it really appeared to come off his foot good today. I don’t think one of them was really in question. The ball got up over the line of scrimmage in a nice way. It looked like a well-struck ball every time it came off.
"Their work ethic is there. Their want to is there. It's great to see them have success. It matters to them. The second week in a row, a step in the right direction."
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