With Wagner missing the last two games with a right knee injury, the Badgers running attack was held to only 19 rushing yards in a 16-13 overtime loss to Michigan State. There were no such problems against Indiana, especially with Wisconsin running early and far behind the left side of the line.
"It was going having Rick back," said left guard Ryan Groy, who filled in at left tackle the last two games. "When we get a unit that has played together a lot, you really know what the other person is going to do and you can react."
That chemistry was evident on Wisconsin's first three drives in the first half – all of which included a run of at least 18 yards that came as a result of Wagner and Groy creating a wide gap for Montee Ball, and James White to run through.
Both Ball and White went over 160 rushing and scored five of Wisconsin's eight touchdowns.
"They are really doing a better job at knocking people off the line of scrimmage," said UW coach Bret Bielema about the offensive line. "We always like to play football in other people's yards. We don't like to play in our own."
Part of that mentality has come from Wagner. A consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection the last two seasons and put on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy this season, Wagner has been the quiet confidant during the resurgence of the line.
"You know he's going to execute his job and he's going to be sound, so you can really trust what he's going to do," said Groy.
Defense Shuts the Door
Entering Saturday on its first two-game conference winning streak in five years, Indiana had scored in each of its last 16 quarters, using its up-tempo offense to get the ball to players in space and to keep opposing defenses on the field.
Not only did the Badgers shut out the Hoosiers in the first and third quarters, Wisconsin held Indiana to 294 total yards, just two yards shy of the Hoosiers' season low.
"Indiana has scored at will on everybody in this league," said Bielema. "(Our coaches) had a nice plan. (Our players) believed it. They executed it. I can't say enough about the effort of our defensive guys."
With a game plan emphasizing the importance of the play of the cornerbacks and the linebackers, Wisconsin got the production it needed from its group. Senior cornerback Marcus Cromartie and junior linebacker Chris Borland led the team with eight tackles and the back seven were responsible for 3.5 of UW's four tackles for loss and all of its takeaways.
More importantly, Wisconsin didn't let up when the game was out of reach. On consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, cornerback Devin Smith and linebacker Conor O'Neill registered interceptions with long returns, setting up the Badgers final two touchdowns.
"Their eyes were in the right place and keyed up to what they needed to do," said Bielema.
Indiana's first five drives went no more than six plays, 18 yards or 1:17 in time of possession.
In the last eight games against Indiana, UW has run for an average of 320.0 yards per game.
Freshman TE Sam Arneson caught his first career TD pass, a 2-yard completion on the Badgers' second offensive possession. Arneson had just one career catch entering today's game.
Sophomore K Kyle French made both of his field goal attempts, connecting on a 24-yard attempt in the second quarter and a 37-yarder in the third quarter. He is now 10-13 on field goals this season.
Junior LB Chris Borland recovered an Indiana fumble in the second quarter, his third fumble recovery of the season and sixth of his career. The six career fumble recoveries ties for third-best in school history, just one behind Dan Batsch and Scott Nelson.