BLOOMINGTON -- Another Indiana so-close-you-can-taste-it loss and coach Bill Lynch didn’t waver, didn’t flinch, didn’t give in. His voice was firm, his gaze steady, his tone optimistic. The program WOULD turn the corner.
“It’s going to happen,” Lynch said. “I hope it happens next week.”
It didn’t happen Saturday. The 31-28 loss to visiting Wisconsin was the Hoosiers’ third straight that came down to the fourth quarter and the fourth this season. Each was more painful than the last.
“When you see these kids in the locker room right now, they are really hurting,” he said. “It’s because they care. They put a lot into it.”
Forget any luster from a moral victory against a 7-2 Wisconsin team. It’s about learning to win the close ones. The key question is how?
“You do it on a daily basis,” Lynch said. “You do it by getting better every day. It’s what we’re doing to build this program.”
IU (4-6) won the fourth quarter 14-7 after losing the previous two final quarters 38-0. It got big plays from quarterback Ben Chappell (25-for-35, 323 yards, three touchdowns) and receivers Tandon Doss (two touchdowns, one for 46 yards), Terrance Turner (one touchdown, a 33-yard catch) and Damarlo Belcher (five catches for 83 yards, one for 30 yards on fourth down), and linebacker Will Patterson (10 tackles, one for loss).
It wasn’t enough.
“We know we have the players to win,” tailback Bryan Payton said. “We’re THIS close to winning. Whatever that is, we’re going to do it these next two games.”
Payton returned to running back after spending the last several weeks on special teams. The former Concordia standout totaled 48 rushing yards on eight carries after starter Darius Willis injured his leg early in the third quarter.
“I didn’t know when I would be needed,” Payton said, “but when I was I was ready.”
Wisconsin couldn’t cover IU receivers, couldn’t get to Chappell, couldn’t stop the Hoosiers passing game. But in the end, Chappell couldn’t get a chance to win the game.
It came down to one play and Wisconsin made it. Facing third and 10 near mid-field with 2:25 left and clinging to that three-point lead, quarterback Scott Tolzien hit receiver Nick Toon for 17 yards and a first down. That enabled the Badgers to run out the clock.
“Big-time throw, big-time catch, big-time call,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.
“It’s like a few other games we’ve played,” Lynch said. “A stop here. A conversion there.”
Wisconsin rushed for 114 yards in the first quarter. That was bad for two reasons -- it showed the Badgers could run at will and it opened up the play-action pass. That exposed IU’s secondary vulnerability and restored the accuracy to previously struggling Tolzien. Despite receivers dropping at least three passes Tolzien was 11-for-20 for 194 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin finished with 294 rushing yards even though John Clay, the Big Ten’s leading rusher, didn’t play in the second half because of a concussion. He finished with 134 yards on 15 carries. Backup tailback Montee Ball rushed for 115 yards on 27 carries.
IU scored first for the fourth straight game courtesy of Chappell’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Doss. It didn’t help. The Hoosiers lost for the third time in that stretch and sixth time in the last seven games.
Last week against Purdue Wisconsin opened with 11 straight runs for 80 yards and a touchdown. Against IU Wisconsin’s opening possession produced three plays, two runs, six yards and a punt.
IU went ahead 7-0 via Chappell’s TD pass to Doss. It was set up when Wisconsin’s David Gilreath fumbled a punt and the Hoosiers’ Collin Taylor recovered at the Badgers’ 10-yard line.
The Badgers came right back to tie the score on Tolzien’s 18-yard TD pass to Isaac Anderson. They added a 26-yard field goal from Philip Welch and Montee Ball’s 1-yard TD run to lead 17-7 midway through the second quarter.
IU scored late in the first half on two long Chappell passes. The first went for 33 yards to Turner and got the Hoosiers into Wisconsin territory. The second went for 46 yards to Doss for a touchdown. Wisconsin responded with Clay’s 14-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14 at halftime.
IU moved within three on Chappell’s touchdown pass to Turner early in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin came right back on a Ball’s 3-yard TD run to make it 31-21 with eight minutes left. IU fullback Trea Burgess scored on a 2-yard, fourth-down run with 4:01 left to make it 31-28. The Hoosiers had a chance if they could stop the Badgers.
“We were close again,” Chappell said. “If we could just get a break…”