Ranked for the first time this season, Wisconsin appears to have a good chance to stay there thanks to a favorable remaining schedule.
The No. 24 Badgers visit struggling Indiana on Saturday, looking to win their fifth straight meeting in the series.
Coming off a bye week, Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) avoided a three-game losing streak with a 37-0 home victory over Purdue last Saturday. The Badgers had given up 51 points in losses to Ohio State and Iowa, but they held the Boilermakers to 141 yards of total offense for their first shutout since a 14-0 victory over San Diego State in 2006.
Wisconsin had early leads against the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes, but couldn’t hold on to them. This time, they had little trouble maintaining their lead, giving up just eight first downs.
“Especially what they’ve done the last couple of weeks, we were able to close out a game, something we haven’t been able to do,” coach Bret Bielema said. “We have really been gaining some momentum offensively.”
Despite a sore ankle, John Clay rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns in the victory after being held to 134 yards and no scores in the previous two games. The 247-pound sophomore leads the conference with 104.9 rushing yards per game.
The Badgers are averaging 35.3 points and 225.3 rushing yards in their wins, versus 11.5 points and 102.5 rushing yards in their losses.
“It was very important to establish the running game,” Clay said. “Once we started rolling, our offense is very hard to stop. We were trying to finish out the whole game, not just the first half, but also the second half.”
Clay and the Badgers will try to keep up the momentum against the Hoosiers (4-5, 1-4), who they’ve beaten four straight times. They’ve outscored Indiana 140-40 in the last three meetings, including a 55-20 road win last Nov. 8.
With an extremely favorable remaining schedule, Bielema believes the Badgers’ first 10-win regular season since 2006 is possible. After visiting Indiana, Wisconsin plays Michigan and Northwestern - who are a combined 3-7 in the Big Ten - then visit Hawaii, which is 0-5 in Western Athletic Conference play, December 5.
“I know we didn’t play well in the second half of Ohio State and Iowa. Quite frankly, that really is disturbing to me and I’ll never get that out of my system, but we can’t let those two teams come up again in the future in these next three weeks that are in front of us in the Big Ten schedule that remains,” Bielema said. “We’ll just focus on Indiana.”
The Hoosiers are looking to avoid a third straight defeat overall. After losing on a late field goal to Northwestern, the Hoosiers blew a 14-point lead against Iowa last Saturday, and gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter of a 42-24 defeat.
“We got into the fourth quarter again and we couldn’t fight it off,” said coach Bill Lynch, whose team had led the Wildcats by 25 points the previous week. “We just didn’t have enough plays in our arsenal to hang with them.”
The Hawkeyes finished with 480 yards of offense and had touchdown drives of 92, 66, 55 and 66 yards in the fourth quarter. Indiana, which has dropped five of six, is giving up more than 400 total yards per game in 2009.
The Hoosiers will be without their biggest special-teams threat Saturday after announcing senior cornerback Ray Fisher, who is fourth in the nation in kickoff returns, will need surgery after injuring his knee against Iowa.