Game Day Grades: Indiana

MADISON - In its final tuneup before hitting the road for back-to-back primetime conference games, No.4 Wisconsin had little trouble dispatching a struggling Indiana squad before turning its sights on Michigan State. Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull hands out the grades.

Quarterbacks

Senior quarterback Russell Wilson's numbers weren't spectacular, but they didn't need to be against an Indiana team that has yet to stop the run this season. Wilson threw just 17 passes, completing 12, for 166 yards and one touchdown on a perfect play.

On third and goal from the UW 3, Wilson escaped pressure, moved to his left, approached the line of scrimmage to draw the defenders covering Jacob Pedersen and then proceeded to hit the tight end wide open for the score.

That play was almost as good as Wilson's 17-yard scamper on third-and-3, another 25-yard scamper in the final minute that got Wisconsin inside the 10 and set up a score before halftime and his 25-yard touchdown catch.

"Obviously when the answers aren't there he can take off and run with it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "It's just intriguing to see him develop these plays in his mind. He knows where he is going before he actually goes there."

Wilson played almost three full quarters before putting on the headset and giving redshirt freshman Joe Brennan some snaps. Brennan's three drives made those still in attendance and watching on television thankful that Wisconsin got Wilson to come to Madison. Brennan didn't throw the ball well, took too long to throw the ball and never really looked comfortable or in rhythm. Other than a 31-yard run on third-and-21, Brennan struggled mightily.

"Joey might benefit from being around Russell more than anybody," Bielema said.

Let's hope so, because next year's quarterback situation doesn't look too promising heading into next year.

Grade: B-

Running Backs

With Indiana ranking last in the conference in run defense and Wisconsin wearing down opponents this season with a bruising running game, it wasn't going to take a rocket scientist to figure out how this one was going to turn out.

Rushing for 332 yards on 42 carries, a whopping 7.9 yards per rush, junior running back Montee Ball was the big benefactor with 142 yards on 14 carries (an even bigger 10.1 yards per rush) and three touchdowns, scoring at least one touchdown in the last 12 games.

Running back James White still hasn't eclipsed 100-yards rushing this season after doing it five times last season, but the sophomore rushed for 87 yards and a 15-yard touchdown where he saw a defender on his heels and made a juke move that put the hesitant tackler on his rear.

"It just felt good to go out there and just help my team," White said. "Do whatever I can to help them get the victory. I just went out there and tried to make the most of each and every carry."

Whether it was the fact that the Hoosiers haven't stopped a running back all season for White had some fresh legs after missing practice this week because of a school commitment, Bielema's premonition was spot on.

"I just had a feeling," Bielema said. "I slapped him on the butt on Thursday and said, ‘You're going to have a big week,' just because I saw him during the bye week take attention to detail. Over the course of the week, he actually missed Wednesday, so he probably got his legs running underneath him a little bit."

Grade: A

Wide Receivers

Even with senior Nick Toon out of the lineup after aggravating his nagging foot injury, Wisconsin's wide receivers still were productive, as seven different players caught at least one pass, including Wilson, as the 25-yard completion from Ball to Wilson was the highlight of the day for the passing game.

What really set that play up was that Wisconsin threw only seven times in its first 20 plays, establishing the run throughout the first quarter before unleashing the tricky on its first second-quarter drive.

"That's why Coach Chryst is the man behind the doors," Ball said. "He did a great job of running, running, running setting that play up … It really shows that he's confident in each of us players and that we can do anything."

Sophomore Jared Abbrederis led the team with four catches for 63 yards and fellow sophomore Jeff Duckworth caught three passes for 31 yards in his first career start. Other than that, pretty mediocre day for the passing game.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

When the first team offense was on the field, Wilson wasn't sacked, was hardly pressured and was given enough time to make all of his pinpoint decisions. Between Ball and White, the running backs lost only six yards on their 27 combined carries. With the Wisconsin offensive line in full strength, the Badgers racked up 524 yards, the third time this season the offense has done that.

The offensive line is playing great and so is the offense, but the line thinks it can do more.

"I think our offense knows that we have potential," sophomore guard Travis Frederick said. "We aren't even close to where we could be. I think it just comes down to how the way we prepare throughout the week. We've had good work weeks throughout all the weeks, which I think has helped us to keep moving forward."

That's a scary thought.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line

It's been a quiet season thus far for defensive end Louis Nzegwu, but the senior played his best game of the season with six tackles, one tackle for loss and a half sack. Right behind him was junior Brendan Kelly with four tackles. Throw in the production of Tyler Dippel (three tackles, one sack and forced fumble) and two tackles each from Warren Herring, Pat Muldoon and Konrad Zagzebski, the Badgers brought a ton of pressure from the ends.

Wisconsin should be slightly concerned with the status of senior Patrick Butrym, who reportedly suffered a low ankle sprain in the first half and should return early this week. Without him in the middle, Wisconsin allowed 234 rushing yards to Indiana, a gaudy number and one Michigan State Edwin Baker (167 yards vs. Michigan) is probably drooling at.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

This is the kind of one-two punch Wisconsin has been hoping to get out of Chris Borland and Mike Taylor for a number of years. With both of them finally healthy and confident, the results are tremendous, as the two combined for 28 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry and a half sack.

Borland's 15 tackles were a career high and Bielema praised all four linebackers (Borland, Taylor, Kevin Claxton and Ethan Armstrong) along with linebackers coach Dave Huxtable for the progression of the group.

"We just had a good scheme and our defensive line did a good job of executing," Borland said. "The plays were there … A good team effort."

Taylor admitted health, confidence, knowing his assignments and reading his keys have been the big reasons for his improved play over the last three weeks, all double-digit tackle performances, but it's clear that he's not 100 perfect, as he took full responsibility for the missed called that yielded a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

"Coming off that bye week, I think we were a little bit lackadaisical, kind of sloppy," he said. "We came out in the second half, even though the score was 38-7, we were playing like it was 0-0 because we had something to prove. We played a better half of football."

Almost a perfect game for the Wisconsin linebackers, but a missed call like that over the next two weeks could really be devastating.

Grade: B+

Secondary

A lot of spacing routes and different quarterbacks made Indiana, according to the UW secondary, one of the toughest opponents to prepare for this season. The results didn't show any signs of struggles, as Wisconsin limited Edwin Wright-Baker to 6-of-15 passing, Tre Roberson to 2-of-5 passing and a total of 64 yards.

Just as important as limiting the attack was Wisconsin creating turnovers from pressure. The Badgers picked off Wright-Baker twice and pressure caused him to fumble in the end zone that Derek Landisch recovered. It was the first defensive touchdown by Wisconsin this season.

Although the Badgers' two interceptions weren't return for touchdowns, they each resulted in seven points. Aaron Henry picked off an easy floating pass in the last minute of the half that resulted in a score and Antonio Fenelus, once again, out jumped a taller receiver for an interception in an end zone. Nine plays and 84 yards later, Wisconsin was up 7-0.

The only negative was Fenelus intercepted the pass instead of knocking it away on fourth down, a lapse in judgment that cost the Badgers 15 yards. A moot point against Indiana, but it might not be against Michigan State.

"I'm probably being overly critical," said Bielema of the lost yardage. "Antonio just competes on every play."

Grade: A-

Special Teams

Abbrederis' 60-yard punt return for a touchdown was his first return for a score, and the first since David Gilreath returned one 68-yards against Northwestern in 2009. With his return, which was 45 yards of open field followed by him knifing through traffic for the final 15 yards, Abbrederis is the FBS national leader on punt returns with a 22.75-yard average.

"He's just got a knack to see the big field," Bielema said. "The play before, he just about didn't wave for a fair catch because he saw that right side open. He has tremendous vision and he gets a little bit of a benefit because people don't think that white guy can run."

Philip Welch nailed his first field goal of the season, knocking in a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter, Brad Nortman was outstanding by averaging 43.8 yards on six punts, including putting three inside the 20-yard line with no touchbacks, and Alec Lerner continues to get a workout on kickoffs, booting nine kicks with a so-so 67-yard average.

Throw in the fact that senior Bradie Ewing was right on top of bad rugby kick, a punt attempt that bounced right off the back of a lineman and high into the air, that gave Wisconsin great field position, it was a solid day for the specialists.

"So much awareness out of Bradie Ewing," Bielema said. "You can't simulate that. That's just awareness, readiness and alertness. I love that kid."

Grade: A


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