‘Running back weather,’ Indiana defense play into hands of Badgers rout

MADISON, Wis. — James White felt certain he would absorb contact and need his shiftiness to juke a defender. The hole was big, but — this being the first play from scrimmage and all — Indiana’s defense had to be ready for a run up the gut, right?

“I was expecting for me to have to make at least one person miss,” said White, Wisconsin’s senior running back.

Instead, White chugged through the line of scrimmage, slapped one defender’s arm away and ran nearly untouched on his way to a 93-yard touchdown. In just one play, he had broken a 50-year-old school record for longest run from scrimmage. And he had exposed the Hoosiers’ defense for everything it was. That is to say, terrible.

The quick-strike score, which took 14 seconds, represented the first of six rushing touchdowns as No. 17 Wisconsin obliterated Indiana 51-3 on a cold, rainy, windy Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. Conditions were ripe for a team that thrives on running the football and miserable for a team bent on passing. In other words, it was a day tailor made for Wisconsin.

“Our coach told us, we knew what the conditions were going to be, and we know that is running back weather right there,” Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon said. “We knew we were going to get the ball and put the team on our back, and we definitely did that today.”

White finished the day with a career-high 205 yards rushing with a touchdown. Gordon added 146 yards and a score. Even Wisconsin’s third-string running back, Corey Clement, tacked on 108 yards in the second half. And wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who had never registered a rushing touchdown, scored twice on the ground.

In total, Wisconsin ran the ball 50 times for 554 yards — a yards-per-carry average of 11.1. It represented the highest rushing total by any FBS team in the country this season and the second-best mark in program history.

The all-time program record? A 564-yard rushing performance set last year during a 62-14 victory against — that’s right — Indiana.

Over the past four games, Wisconsin has now outscored Indiana 255-44, which began with an 83-20 drubbing of the Hoosiers in 2010.

There was a time, three minutes into Saturday’s game, when Wisconsin was on pace to beat Indiana 280-0. And somehow, it didn’t seem all that ridiculous a notion given what had transpired on the field, with Indiana committing two turnovers and surrendering two rushing touchdowns, to White and Gordon.

Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 in Big Ten play) has so thoroughly owned Indiana (4-6, 2-4) in recent years that a suggestion surfaced Saturday with this premise: If Wisconsin could only play Indiana every week, the Badgers would lead Alabama in the BCS standings.

“Games like that, they don’t come around too often where you just manhandle a team like our offense did today,” Badgers linebacker Brendan Kelly said. “You definitely enjoy it when you’re a defensive guy sitting on the bench and looking at our rushing yards and just saying, ‘It keeps on going up.'”

Earlier in the week, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson acknowledged his team’s run defense and pass defense were not very good — an understatement considering the Hoosiers’ inability to tackle almost anybody.

Indiana began the day ranked 111th nationally in scoring defense (37.4 points per game) and left in even worse shape. The Hoosiers now are surrendering 39.1 points per outing. Indiana’s run defense also will surely drop from 108th (217.4 yards allowed) to one of the five worst in the nation (251.1).

The struggles began for Indiana when quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s third pass of the game was intercepted by Badgers cornerback Sojourn Shelton at the 7-yard-line. White then burst through the line on an inside zone run, and he said Indiana’s defense was out of its gaps. That allowed White to break the program record for longest rush, surpassing Tom Brigham, who set the mark in 1963 with a 91-yard run against Western Michigan.

“To start off with one play that goes for 90-some yards, that really got us moving,” Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “It kind of showed us confidence that, ‘Hey we’re going to be able to run on these guys, and we’ve got to keep it going.'”

Gordon added a 1-yard touchdown after Hoosiers tailback Stephen Houston fumbled the ball away at his own 14-yard line. Abbrederis scored on jet sweep runs around the right edge from 32 and 49 yards, and Clement rushed for touchdowns of 19 and 21 yards during the fourth quarter to account for the final margin.

Indiana’s offense, meanwhile, fumbled the ball three times in the first quarter alone. The Hoosiers, who entered the day averaging 43.1 points per game, were held without a touchdown for the first time in two years.

Was Indiana prepared for the conditions?

“I’m not sure,” said Badgers linebacker Chris Borland, who led the team with 10 tackles. “They fumbled the ball a few times. If they were ready, they didn’t play very well in them.”

Borland tried to stifle a grin by gritting his teeth afterward, but he couldn’t keep from flashing a mischievous smile.

On a day in which Wisconsin did seemingly everything right, there were plenty of smiles to go around.

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