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Eighty-three points: At Indiana football’s lowest moment, Wisconsin ran them into the ground

In 2010, Wisconsin blew out Indiana in Madison. Seven years later, there’s still no good explanation for why it happened.

Eighty-three points.

During the 2010-11 basketball season, Indiana scored at least 83 points only five times out of 32 games. That IU team finished 12-20, but the offense at least was respectable that season, ranking 61st in KenPom. Thus, 83 points seems like a tough mark to reach, even in a college basketball game.

In football, however? It’s damned near impossible.

Since 2000, an FBS school has only scored 83 or more points four times.

In games between two Power 5 opponents, it’s happened only once.

Today, we’ll be discussing that game.

The Big Ten was a different conference in 2010. There still were only 11 teams, who played only an eight-game conference schedule and were not yet sequestered off into Leaders and Legends divisions. They still used the incredible “hidden 11” logo (which I miss dearly). And without a title game, the Big Ten used the final BCS rankings to determine which team would attend the Rose Bowl. This is important to our story, because to get that rankings push, some teams felt they couldn’t just get by on victories alone, they had to win with gusto and style.

Already with one loss earlier in the season to Michigan State, Wisconsin still felt they had work to do. Since the Playoff wasn’t yet implemented, only the top two teams would get to the BCS title game. The consensus top two were Oregon and Auburn, but the Badgers knew that if one of them slipped up, they had a chance to grab that title spot. By early November, 8-1 Wisconsin still had climbed up to the top 5, thanks in part to a 31-18 drubbing of Ohio State. This 2010 team was particularly special, with future pros J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, Travis Frederick, Lance Kendricks, and James White on the roster.

Under fifth-year head coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin maintained the same brand and style on the field as his predecessor and mentor, Barry Alvarez. But unlike Alvarez, whose demeanor was more like his own mentor, Tom Osborne, Bielema was more brash and outspoken off the field. Bert, as opposing fans derisively called him, would appear shirtless at parties in Madison. He wasn’t afraid to poke the bear at the Big Ten’s top programs. And he wasn’t afraid to score points, either, as Wisconsin had put up 70 - a new school record - on Austin Peay earlier that year.

Indiana, on the other hand, was mired in what would be the final season of the Bill Lynch era. Lynch was hired full-time after taking over for the late Terry Hoeppner and leading IU to a bowl game as the interim guy in 2007. But after three years as permanent head coach, it wasn’t working out for Lynch. IU’s three last games in 2010 were all away from Bloomington - first at Wisconsin, then a “home” game against Penn State that was being played at FedEx Field outside D.C., and finally the Bucket game in West Lafayette. At 4-5, Lynch probably needed to win 2 out of these 3 to save his job.

So as November 13, 2010 dawned on an 11 a.m. local kickoff at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin and Indiana were two different teams going in two very different directions. The game remained close throughout the first quarter though, and even at the beginning of the second quarter, the scored was tied at 10 after a Mitch Ewald field goal. But that’s when the madness really started.

This game was Montee Ball’s first career start at RB for the Badgers, as he was taking the place of the injured John Clay. He had 167 yards on 22 carries for 3 touchdowns. After Ball’s second touchdown of the day put the Badgers up 17-10, the Hoosiers drove downfield again. But this time, starting QB Ben Chappell was injured, then IU missed a field goal with 5:46 to go in the half, and the rout was on. Before Indiana could blink, Wisconsin had three more touchdowns, and the halftime score was 38-10. In addition to Ball, future New England Patriots Super Bowl hero James White had two touchdowns on the ground, and QB Scott Tolzien - last seen in 2017 getting benched after one half for the Colts - went 15-for-18 with three scores of his own.

I want to point out only two moments from the second half that particularly stand out in this massacre. The first was when Indiana was down 52-10, third-string QB Dusty Kiel, who had come in for Edward Wright-Baker (and would later leave the game for Wright-Baker again), finally led IU down the field on a 9-play, 58-yard drive. Facing 4th and 8 at the Wisconsin 15, the Hoosiers settled for a field goal. Sure, IU wasn’t winning this game. But going for a field goal down 42 points is the ultimate sign of waving the white flag. It’s as if Lynch knew his time at IU was nearing its end, and the fight had simply gone out of him and his team, in game 10 of a grueling season.

The second was after 17 additional Wisconsin points, and Bielema had called it a day for Tolzien and most of the Badgers starters. Facing 3rd and 6 from their own 26, Badgers backup Jon Budmayr threw a deep bomb to Jared Abbrederis, who went untouched into the endzone to give Wisconsin a 63-point lead.

The teams traded touchdowns in the closing minutes, and the final score was Wisconsin 83, Indiana 20. The carnage was significant. Wisconsin had 598 total yards, including 338 on the ground. The Badgers didn’t punt once all game. All 12 of their drives ended in touchdowns or field goals, and they even tacked on a pick-six. Wisconsin did one last scoring pileup a couple weeks later in a 70-23 Thanksgiving weekend victory over Northwestern. They ended up getting the B1G’s Rose Bowl bid, where they lost 21-19 to TCU, who used this game and their undefeated season to help them earn a Big 12 conference bid. Meanwhile, Indiana ended the season with a 5-7 record after beating Purdue for the Bucket, but Lynch was still fired, and Kevin Wilson took over for the Hoosiers the next season.

Seven years have now passed since 83-20. Bielema is now on the hot seat in Arkansas (perhaps this is #karma?), while Lynch’s teams at D3 DePauw are thriving. But back in the Big Ten, Wisconsin and Indiana still maintain similar identities in football than they did in 2010. This Saturday, with Indiana facing Wisconsin this weekend for the first time in four years, I wonder what lessons came for either team from the 83-20 game.

The Badgers’ OC for that game, Paul Chryst, is now their head coach. Once again, Chryst has Wisconsin in the top 5 in November. The Badgers are undefeated, and will almost certainly win their third Big Ten West title in 4 years. But Wisconsin never made it to a BCS title game and have yet to sniff the CFP. And the 2014 and 2016 Big Ten title games sort of proved that Ohio State and Penn State are just a little further along. In terms of innovation, the Badgers’ offense just hasn’t kept up.

As for Indiana, the Hoosiers never figured out how to keep it close against Wisconsin, even after Lynch was ousted and even as the Hoosiers scared other B1G frontrunners. In 2011, Indiana lost 59-7, in 2012 it was 62-14 (I was at that game - Wisconsin had 564 rushing yards), and then 51-3 in 2013. And with a 3-5 record in so far 2017, Indiana might be in for more of the same on Saturday, with another coach who, like Lynch, was an emotional hire who was given the keys to the full-time gig. The jury’s still out on Allen as a head coach after just eight games, but after three straight one-possession losses that rivaled the close calls of the Wilson era, feeling optimistic for IU’s future has become harder as the season has rolled on, especially with a moribund offense.

After the 2010 game, there was talk about whether Bielema was intentionally running up the score. Earlier in the season, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, who was also about to lose his job, got very upset at Bert when the Badgers went for two while up 41-16 on his Gophers. Bill Lynch, of course, was too nice of a guy to accuse Bert of anything - his comments about the final score after the game were “I've always felt it was our job to stop the team and play the game ... We didn't do that very well.” There was even a New York Times op-ed piece written after the game that focused on sportmanship, amateurism, and how the BCS made these ideals impossible. And in a comment that foreshadowed our current era of presidential politics, Bielema even denied that this was his intention.

But a downfield passing call with the backup QB when up by 56 should raise a ton of eyebrows. This was from John M.’s game wrap for CQ:

I suppose I need to address the "running up the score" issue. It's a horrible thing to address from the perspective of the losing team, because it comes across as whining. IU is a Big Ten team and shouldn't be begging for mercy from another Big Ten team. Ultimately, it's up to the defense to get a stop. Still, it's hard for me to believe that there is anything other than humiliation in mind when a coach makes the decision, as Bret Bielema did, to put the ball in the air with under 8 minutes remaining in the game while leading by 56 points.

This is what I’m wondering as well.

What grudge, if any, did Bielema hold against the Hoosiers? In a way, I’d get it if, say, Purdue did this to Indiana, and I even kind of get going for two up big late to stick it to your rivals from Minnesota. But why Indiana? A team with no B1G wins all season and a lame-duck head coach and an injured starting QB? Was a 63-point win instead of a 56-point win the missing link to a nice bowl game? Did Bert just want to prove how easy it was to score points? Or was something shadier afoot?

There really is no good explanation. It defies logic.

But then again, you can say that most everything that has happened to Indiana football since its only Rose Bowl berth in 1967 has defied logic, so it ultimately fits the pattern of this team’s tortured, devastating history.