While Wisconsin had bounced back with a 44-3 victory over Northern Illinois last week, the Badgers wanted to prove themselves against a legitimate Big Ten opponent like the Hoosiers.
"I think after the two losses we had, we kind of beat ourselves up because we were not playing too well," tight end Travis Beckum said. "I think in these two back-to-back wins we have definitely stepped our game up."
Even though Wisconsin poured the points on and limited Indiana to just a field goal, the game really came down to one play. The hyped match-up between IU wide receiver James Hardy and UW cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu was the game-changer—but, surprisingly, it was on a running play.
With the Badgers up 17-3 late in the third quarter, Hoosiers running back Marcus Thigpen bounced to the outside and sped off for an 84-yard touchdown that would have given Indiana all the momentum and only down a touchdown. But Hardy extended his hands while blocking Ikegwuonu, resulting in a 10-yard holding penalty. To make matters worse, Thigpen vented his frustration after the penalty, prompting the referee to call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
So instead of cutting the lead to 17-10, the Hoosiers actually lost yardage on the play, essentially eliminating their chances of coming back, as Lance Smith scored one of his two touchdowns on the ensuing possession.
"When you reverse a big play like that, it kind of sucks the energy out of you," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.
Wisconsin closed out the fourth quarter, scoring nine more points for the 33-3 victory.
It was the Badgers' defense that was the key of the game — forcing five turnovers and holding the Hoosiers without a touchdown for the first time all season.
However, Wisconsin's offense wasn't able to capitalize on all the takeaways.
"You like to see turnovers create field position and points," Bielema said. "It's baby steps around here—we got the turnovers, now we just got to work on the offense.
"Our offense didn't know how to respond. They haven't gotten many turnovers so they didn't know how to go in that mode themselves."
And the offense may have been taking baby steps because starting running back P.J. Hill left the game toward the end of the first quarter. Hill rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown but did not return due to a bruised foot. The injury does not appear to be serious, as Bielema said X-rays on it were negative.
Without Hill, the reserve running backs Lance Smith and Zach Brown stepped in. Smith ran for a team-high 79 yards and two touchdowns and Brown added 40 yards and a score himself.
"We have some depth at the running back position and it showed today," said quarterback Tyler Donovan, who finished with 144 yards on 12-of-21 passing. "Those guys bring a little bit of speed to the table which is always nice."
Now heading into a match-up against the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, most of the players feel like they are back on track and ready for the big game.
But it's not the Buckeyes they have to watch out for - it's themselves.
"We know that our biggest enemy is ourself," Beckum said. "We can't just beat ourselves, we just have to strive to get better every week."