The Badgers look to disregard the past and move forward when Wisconsin travels to Indiana to face an equally trouble Hoosier team in Bloomington this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Wisconsin (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) is assured to finish below the .500 mark in Big Ten play for the first time since the 2002 season after the Badgers blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead last Saturday in East Lansing. It was the third fourth-quarter lead the Badgers have squandered this year and was their most penalized game of the year, committing 12 penalties for 121 yards.
"We just have to use it as fuel and move forward. We can't look back on it now," junior running back P.J. Hill said. "We've got to keep moving forward and we've got some more teams ahead of us now. That's our focus – to focus in our opponent and the 1-0 mentality. We know what we're capable of. We just have to hold onto it at the end of the game."
One of the positives for the Badgers against the Spartans was the disparity in the running game. The Badgers not only got their first 100-yard rusher of the conference season, they got two, as Hill rushed for 106 yards and freshman John Clay garnered 111 yards for his first career 100-yard game.
After struggling defensively in the middle part of the conference season, the Badgers, in the past two weeks, have held Illinois to 175 yards and Michigan State to 54 yards under its season averages.
"There is no quit in any of these guys," junior safety Chris Maragos said. "Nobody takes plays off and nobody is out there to say forget this or forget that. We're out there playing for each other and caring for each other. I think that is what is setting us apart. That's really making us a cohesive unit throughout all of this."
With the Badgers needing two victories in their final three games to finish .500 for the season and become bowl eligible, Indiana (3-6, 1-4 Big Ten) finds itself in an even more challenging situation than Wisconsin.
In Indiana 37-34 loss to Central Michigan, sophomore quarterback Ben Chappell went just was 8-of-16 for 156 yards a touchdown and an interception while junior running back Marcus Thigpen ran six times for 109 yards and two scores. Thigpen injured his ankle and head coach Bill Lynch is hopeful he will be play on Saturday.
Defensively, linebacker Matt Mayberry tied the Hoosiers' single-game record for sacks with four.
Statistically, Indiana is tenth in scoring offense and scoring defense and is dead last in total defense, giving up 394 yards per game.
"Wisconsin is a football team that is very talented and has lost some tough games where they have played very well," Lynch said. "They have gotten after us pretty good the last few years and we know that we have our hands full."
The game will also be big for Wisconsin quarterback Dustin Sherer, who has personally put a lot of the blame on himself for the offensive struggles (particularly on third downs). In three games, Sherer has completed 51.2 percent of his passes for an average of 161.3 yards per game. However, just like the quarterback he replaced, Sherer has struggled with turnovers, throwing two interceptions (both at Iowa) and losing two fumbles.
"I don't think you can ever do enough," Sherer said. "That's the mentality of this team and part of being a leader is doing more that you are supposed to or have to. I put pressure on myself and I did it in fall camp, that's why I didn't play well. I just have to go out and be me when I play."
Sherer, a native of Cicero, Ind., will be making his first start in his home state. Sherer was UW's No.3 quarterback in 2006 the last time Wisconsin travelled to the Badgers to Bloomington (a 52-17 UW win). Sherer went 0 for 2 with one interception.
Two years later, Sherer is UW's No.1 quarterback and will have plenty of family and friends in the stands. Additionally, Sherer's brother, Chad, is a freshman linebacker for the Hoosiers.
Although Chad is redshirting this season, that isn't stopping Dustin from trying to get defenses.
"I am trying to get what defenses they are going to run out of him," Dustin said. "I haven't talked to him in the last week so I have to get on him and get stuff out of him and find out what trick plays they are going to put in."
While the Badgers need only two wins to become bowl eligible, the upper classmen on the team have set their goals higher than an average record. Should the Badgers beat the struggling Hoosiers, border-rival Minnesota and I-AA Cal Poly, Wisconsin would clinch its seven-straight winning season, UW's longest streak since the 1900s.
"Of course you want to win the last three," Hill said. "You just don't want to give it up. We've put a lot of time into football. We work very hard from going into camp and all season as well. You play to win but you want guys to play for themselves, the program and be the team that people talk about playing good football. We've got to end the season off on a good note. We have three more opportunities to take advantage of and it is going to start with Indiana this week."
Wisconsin (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (3-6, 1-4)
Date/Time - Saturday, November 8 at 11:00 a.m. CT
Arena – Memorial Stadium (49,225/FieldTurf)
Television - Big Ten Network (Mark Neely, Chris Martin and Anthony Herron)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)
Series – Wisconsin leads 34-18-2
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 33-3, on Oct. 27, 2007 in Madison
This will be the 55th meeting between Wisconsin and Indiana with UW leading the all-time series 14-9-1 in Bloomington. The Badgers have won nine of the last 11 meetings, including three in a row with an average margin of victory over IU in the last three meetings of 27.3 points.
In the last game between the teams in Bloomington UW scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions and led 35-0 at halftime on its way to a 52-17 victory.
Wisconsin has lost three Big Ten games by a total of six points. The Badgers fell by two points at Michigan, lost by three at home to Ohio State and dropped a one-point decision at Michigan State.
UW won the TOP battle against Michigan State 32:38-27:22. The Badgers rank second in the Big Ten in time of possession in conference games, keeping the ball for an average of 32:07 per game.
Redshirt freshman running back John Clay continues to show improvement during his first season. In the last three games, Clay has run the ball 55 times for 288 yards. He is the Badgers' leading rusher in conference games, averaging 75.3 yards per contest (seventh in the Big Ten).
The Badgers are in dire straights. Wisconsin desperately needs to win in order to gain some positive momentum heading into its conference finale against Minnesota and fight for a bowl game. A loss against a bad Indiana squad would basically be the death sentence for this team, as UW would either a) miss a bowl game or b) head to Detroit (talk about a death sentence).
While the Badgers offense continues to struggle through the air and converting on third downs, Wisconsin's defense has stepped up the last two weeks. Against their last two opponents, UW has allowed a total of 113 rushing yards with the longest run Wisconsin has allowed being only 13 yards – a stark contrast from the early part of the conference season.
Wisconsin's defensive line is also starting to put pressure on the quarterback. The Badgers sacked MSU's Brian Hoyer three times last Saturday. In the three previous games, UW has only two total sacks.
Wisconsin is a 10-point favorite on Saturday and the Hoosiers, despite scoring 34 points the week before, gave up 37 to a 7-2 Central Michigan team. Are the Chippewas better than the Badgers? I won't answer that, but Wisconsin should win this football game … as long as no snide remarks are made towards the officials.
Wisconsin 38, Indiana 24
Straight up: 7-2
Against the Spread: 6-3