After Ohio State returned either an interception or a kickoff for a touchdown, Wisconsin never could land a punch to stifle the attack. Against Iowa, the Badgers were knocked out after 20 unanswered points, a stretch where UW never landed a simply body blow.
So when Indiana stole momentum time and time again Saturday, Wisconsin finally was able to throw some counter punches … and landed just enough of them.
Indiana cut Wisconsin's 10-point lead to three points three different times, but the Badgers were able to answer all the momentum with enough jabs and punches to earn a hard-fought 31-28 victory over the Hoosiers in front of 36, 611 fans at Memorial Stadium.
"I kind of had a feeling that this would be one of those (four-quarter) games," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "We just had to hang on and do what we did. There kids play hard. Our kids did enough to win … I like this team because they believe that we are a team."
One would be hard pressed to find the biggest momentous moment for Wisconsin (7-2, 6-2 Big Ten), who had to come up with a big play time and again to silence the charging Hoosiers.
Another option could be freshman Montee Ball stepping in for Clay, who was injured late in the first half, to rush for a career-high 115 yards and two scores, including the game winner. One could throw Chris Borland into the mix, as well, who intercepted Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell inside the red zone to preserve a 10-point UW lead early in the third quarter.
Receiver Nick Toon could probably garner some votes, as the sophomore had a career-high 123 yards, including a 17-yard completion on third-and-9 that iced the game for the Badgers.
Needless to say, everywhere you look, the Badgers had a player stepping up to the plate.
"Guys are contributing," said senior captain Chris Maragos, who registered his team-high four interception in the second quarter. "Montee Ball, Chris Borland, guys that are contributing all over the place from seniors to freshman, and that's what makes this team work.
Wisconsin's continued to live up to its M.O. this season – dominate the run and stop its opponents. The Badgers left no doubt that they are the best running offensive and run defense in the league, rushing for 294 yards and limiting Indiana to 63 yards rushing, continuing its streak of not given up 100 yards rushing to any conference opponent this season.
"That's a quarterback's best friend," said junior quarterback Scott Tolzien of the running game. "A lot of people say the Big Ten has shifted to more of a spread attack but that's where it comes down to in the big games – who can run the ball and who can stop the run."
After Chappell (25-of-35 for 323 yards, three scores, two interceptions) connected with Tandon Doss for an 11-yard score and an early 7-0 lead, the Badgers turned to the conference's leader in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns. Clay's long run set up Tolzien's first touchdown pass since the Minnesota game, connecting with Isaac Anderson for an 18-yard score.
Not only has it been a long drought for Tolzien, but it was Anderson's first touchdown since the first offensive play of the season.
Anderson's touchdown was the first of five red zone trips for Wisconsin, all of which led to scored. The Badgers have now scored points on 33-of-35 trips to the red zone (94 percent), getting touchdowns 27 times.
But more mistakes continued to cost UW, this time on offense. Having a prime opportunity to take its first lead with first-and-goal on the three, UW fell victim to a tipped pass on first down, lineman Peter Konz tripping Tolzien on second down and an offensive pass interference penalty on Anderson that wiped out a Lance Kendricks touchdown, forcing UW to kick a 26-yard field goal.
"(From now on), if you're scouting us and we have first-and-goal on the 1, you should probably expect a run," Bielema said.
UW's next 80-yard drive faired much better, as UW went 81 yards in 10 plays that was capped by Ball first score.
The Badgers' offense was dominant in the first half, out gaining Indiana 305 to 143 in total yards and 196 to 1 rushing. So when Doss caught his second touchdown pass, a 46-yard lolly-pop from Chappell that cornerback Niles Brinkley misplayed, the Badgers had an immediate answer from their ground game.
Up 17-14, UW got a big kickoff return from Borland, who advanced the short kickoff to the Indiana 49, and watched Clay carry the ball three times for 38 yards, including an 11-yard score that gave him his 20th career touchdown, putting UW up 24-14 at halftime.
But Indiana was far from finished, as Chappell connected for his third touchdown pass, this one a six-yard strike to Terrance Turner, to cut the lead to three.
After UW's cornerbacks held Purdue to season low in passing yards and completions, the Badgers DBs struggled, a main reason Indiana coach Bill Lynch gambled on 4th-and-5 at UW's 39 by attacking Brinkley. It paid off, as Damarlo Belcher undercut the junior and dragged him 15 yards, ending in a 30-yard gain to the UW 9.
"It obviously wasn't pretty today and we have to play better to have the goals that we want to accomplish," Maragos said.
While the defense started leaking like a sieve, the Badgers offense kept rolling along. With John Clay sidelined with Bielema said was a slight concussion for the second half, Ball stepped in to pick up the slack. Ball rushed for 115 yards on 27 carries and capped a seven play, 78-yard scoring drive with a three-yard score that proved to be the game winner.
"He was like the Energizer Bunny out there," Bielema said. "Every time he got a (carry), he was grinning and smiling and gaining momentum."
Indiana made it interesting, as Trea Burgess' two-yard score tightened the lead to 31-28 with 4:01 remaining, but Tolzien's completion to Toon was the final nail in Indiana's coffin.
"That play was critical," Bielema said. "Big time throw, big time catch, big time call and that ended up being the difference in the game."
Wisconsin now finds itself right back in the conference title race. Coupled with conference-leading Iowa's 17-10 loss at home to Northwestern, UW is one-game behind with two Big Ten games left.
With Bielema having gone to the Rose Bowl as a player on a two-loss Iowa team and the Badgers having won the 2000 Rose Bowl with a pair of defeats, who knows? Maybe UW's season will come up smelling like roses after all.
"We don't get style points but the way I understand it, our conference leader took a dive," Bielema said. "That kind of open things up … We have two Big Ten games left. It should be interesting."