Unbeaten but at No. 9 in the initial college football playoff rankings, Wisconsin perhaps could have used a proverbial "statement" win.
At first glance, a 45-17 victory at Indiana might move the needle at least a little. The Hoosiers were being touted as a tough out, despite being 0-5 in the conference, thanks to some close defeats at the hands of, most notably, Michigan and Michigan State.
The Badgers looked like the next to play a close game against Indiana, an early red-zone interception was turned into a long drive and touchdown for Indiana, which burst out to a 10-0 lead.
But the Wisconsin defense for the most part shut down Indiana's offense in the second half as well as coming up with some big turnovers, Jonathan Taylor (who it was unsure would even play after missing the second half last week) rushed for 183 yards and Alex Hornibrook completed a couple of big third-down passes as the Badgers charged back to win.
The victory came with a cost, though. While wide receiver Quintez Cephus and safety D'Cota Dixon, both of whom were listed as questionable, played but didn't finish the game due to injuries. Cephus' injury -- he got rolled up on by an offensive lineman -- looked the worse of the two and he could be lost for a while, if not the season.
Linebacker Chris Orr was Wisconsin's first casualty, leaving in the first half with what looked like a hamstring injury.
Nevertheless, Badgers backups like wide receiver A.J. Taylor, safety Joe Ferguson and linebacker Tyler Johnson, stepped up. UW will need more of that in the final part of the season.
If there's one thing this Wisconsin team appears to be this season it is resilient. And maybe that's the Badgers statement after this win.
It's not every day a player can have just five touches for a combined 24 yards and be instrumental in a victory. Say hello to fullback Alec Ingold, just another one of those guys who are stepping up when needed -- Ingold has mainly been in the background this season but is playing now due to an injury to starter Austin Ramesh. Ingold scored three touchdowns, one on a beautiful play-action fake that left the fullback wide open for an 18-yard score. Yes, he punched the ball in twice from the 1-yard line, but his two other carries were on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, both from within the 10-yard line, and he picked up a first down on each. So, basically, every time he touched the ball Ingold did something really productive. That right there defines a player of the game.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
It'd be hard not to overlook Joe Ferguson. The senior safety, playing in his 53rd game at Wisconsin, intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. The Badgers scored a touchdown after each turnover, or, more points than Indiana had in the game. But let's not forget the player who helped set up Ferguson for his success, either. Walk-on freshman redshirt linebacker Tyler Johnson has made a few big plays this season and he was the one who stripped running back Morgan Ellison of the ball. He also forced quarterback Richard Lagow to throw quickly -- rushing the quarterback on a stunt, and coming in untouched -- and into triple coverage, where Ferguson came up with the pick.
Above we covered the turnovers, which were all key plays. But who knows how this game would have turned out if not for a couple of big third-down plays early in the second quarter. Indiana had just taken a 10-0 lead and Alex Hornibrook had thrown just two passes in the first quarter -- one was intercepted and the other want for just two yards. Facing a third-and-8 from the Wisconsin 29, Hornibrook connected downfield with A.J. Taylor for a 32-yard gain. Three plays later, on a third-and-5, it was a short catch-and-run for 16 yards to Quintez Cephus. Ingold would tally his receiving touchdown on the next play and Badgers fans everywhere were able to exhale, at least a little bit. If not for those third-down passes, Wisconsin could have been facing an even bigger deficit (UW hasn't been down by 14 or more points since playing Alabama in the 2015 season opener).
55 -- number of plays for Indiana. The Hoosiers and their quick-play offense came into Saturday averaging 81.4 plays per game. Indiana had 24 plays, including two long drives of 11 and 8, in the first quarter, but had just one drive of more than five plays (six in the third quarter) the rest of the game. The Hoosiers ran just 23 plays in the second half. By the way, Wisconsin had 74 plays, its second-highest total of the season behind just 84 vs. Florida Atlantic.
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THEY SAID IT
"You don't want to be behind the eight ball. But I think they do a nice job of focusing in on the moment. I think they have confidence in each other and know that it's a long game and you just have to continue to play no matter what happens." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"We wanted to come out and set the tone. That was the main idea, just coming out and setting the tone." -- running back Jonathan Taylor
"We played a great football team today, but when you're minus in the takeaway ratio you're not going to win. To me, that's what it came down to. We didn't run the football well enough. That's for sure. We didn't stop the run well enough, for sure. But for me, it was all about takeaways than anything, and that's all I've got to say about that." -- Indiana head coach Tom Allen
"He's a tough runner. He doesn't go down on the first contact. He just keeps his legs moving. He's a bigger back that we've faced this year so we had to do a better job of wrapping up. I also have to look at myself in the mirror. I missed quite a few tackles today. He's just a bigger back that doesn't go down on the first contact." -- Indiana LB Tegray Scales on Taylor
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Wisconsin returns to Camp Randall Stadium to host an up-and-down Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) team. The Hawkeyes, which started the year 3-2, are now way, way up, coming off a 55-24 pasting of No. 6 Ohio State. The Badgers have won three of the last four matchups over Iowa -- but all those are on the road. Iowa beat UW 10-6 in Madison in 2015. This should be a good one.