IU besting Wisconsin may be season saver


BLOOMINGTON — The implications of Indiana’s 20-14 victory over Wisconsin Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium may be seismic. Almost unbelievably, despite the Hoosiers’ many stumbles this season (losses to four ranked teams), given the glut of college football bowl games, they could still be in line for a post-season invitation. If.

Raising the record from a potential 2-7 to instead 3-6, may not sound that special, but it could be monumental. If.

Winning over a team that almost always seems to have IU’s number (41-19-2 since 1907), filled fans with glee and uplifted the hearts of Hoosier warriors, hearts of players that had been broken so regularly this season.

Capturing a critical game, for a change, may even have saved coach Tom Allen’s job. Intriguing how one victory over a non-ranked Big Ten opponent can possibly mean so much.

It can rewrite Indiana’s 2023 narrative by leaving the Hoosiers well-positioned to run the table on the schedule. If they take down Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue, all teams with losing records, to finish 6-6, they become bowl eligible. That answers all of the ifs.

Coming off a loss to No. 10 ranked Penn State, Indiana brought a different demeanor to the field to face Wisconsin (5-4), a team it had not beaten at home since 2002. The Hoosiers were also 0-5 in the league this fall.

Although the game was close, and due to injuries the Badgers were without its star running back and not using its first-string quarterback, IU played with superior style, especially on defense, ending an overall four-game losing streak.

Indiana led the entire game, 7-0 after the first quarter and 17-7 at the half, and iced the result on a 50-yard field goal by Chris Freeman (his second boot) in the fourth period.

“I just attribute it to our culture, I really do,” coach Tom Allen said. “Our kids believe in what we’re doing. They care about each other.”

There was joy on the Indiana sideline for a change, instead of gloom, and the win was obviously going to be savored as much by players as any chocolate cake dessert after previously being force fed so much castor oil.

Donavan McCulley, who came to IU to become the Hoosiers’ next great quarterback, but has morphed into as hot a receiver as Tyreek Hill, had his finest day at that position.

The 6-foot-5 junior from Indianapolis made a did-you-see-that one-handed catch for a 7-yard touchdown and another grab among his five for the game where it seemed impossible for him to remain on his feet while being hit.

Even McCulley seemed surprised he held on to the TD catch.

“Honestly, it was a difficult catch,” he said. “I saw the ball in my hand and went ‘Oh.’” Asked if this game was the most fun he’s had as a receiver, McCulley said, “It’s up there, for sure.”

Although the Hoosiers rambled down the field in a hurry on their first possession, going 56 yards on nine plays, they did not dominate the Badgers statistically, but did just enough on offense.

Quarterback Brendan Sorsby threw just the one touchdown to McCulley, but made opportunistic runs on scrambles and IU avoided the big-play turnover.

It was on defense where Indiana truly shined, stifling Wisconsin when it needed to, permitting just 261 yards in all. The Badgers could gain just 1.8 yards per rush, unusual production for a team that has long thrived with its ground game.

No one was a bigger (in more than one way) reason than linebacker Aaron Casey, who wrapped his meaty arms around more than his share of Wisconsin ball carriers. Casey is 6-2 and weighs 225, but seems to have the impact of a lineman and the speed of a defensive back rolled into his human package.

Saturday, Casey was in on nine tackles, four of them for losses, and twice sacked Wisconsin quarterback Braedyn Locke.

“Man, it’s great,” Casey said of being on the winning side for a change of pace. “I’m just proud.”

Allen has talked of the Hoosiers’ need to be in playoff mode. That means he and the players are aware they must win every game the rest of the way to reach a .500 record and be bowl eligible.

Bowl eligible is not a phrase that would be uttered around IU as they were being manhandled, 44-17 by Maryland, 52-7 by Michigan, and 31-14 by Rutgers, as well as losing by 20 points to Ohio State.

Yet they now face a wrap-it-up slate only requiring victories over 4-5 Illinois, 3-6 Michigan State and 2-7 Purdue. Nationally highly ranked teams like Michigan or Ohio State would shrug at such minimal opposition. For IU, hungry and desperate, still nothing can be taken for granted.

However, Indiana’s triumph over Wisconsin may have transformed it from a downtrodden team to one with dangerous potential.

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