BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – David Gilreath maintains he is still a capable wide receiver who is ready to make a name for himself running routes for the Badgers.
With the way he is running the end around, the sophomore’s trademark is becoming his standout game-changing speed around the end.
Gilreath only had one catch for 19 yards but was Wisconsin’s most successful ‘running back,’ earning 168 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns in leading the Badgers to a vital 55-20 road-conference victory for Indiana to keep UW’s bowl hopes alive and kicking.
“It’s big,” Gilreath said about the win. “Any win we can get now is big, especially trying to get to a bowl game and bringing some momentum to the Minnesota game for the axe. It’s hard to get a win anytime you are in the Big Ten, but we’re even now at 5-5. We can go up for here.”
The Badgers (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) had been effective offensively in the first 30 minutes, scoring 24 first-half points against the worst defense in the conference, as the Hoosiers came into the game giving up an average of 394 yards per game.
Even so, Wisconsin couldn’t gain any separation from Indiana (3-7, 1-5 Big Ten). The Hoosiers answered a Badger score three times with a score of their own, continuously keeping within striking distance of Wisconsin.
That all changed with Wisconsin’s first drive of the second half.
With the Badger offense starting its first drive on their own 10-yard line, Gilreath, who had run the end around so effectively all game, out ran everybody on the left side of the Hoosier defense and went 90 yards untouched into the end zone.
Gilreath’s touchdown, the second-longest run in school history, opened the third-quarter flood gates for Wisconsin, who scored 17 third-quarter points that blew the game wide open.
“The line and the guys in front of me are doing a great job of making some big holes for me and I am just running through them,” said Gilreath. “I am using some speed out there, but they are doing a good job out there."
Gilreath was far from the only successful running back against the Hoosier defense. Junior P.J. Hill jump started the offense from the beginning, scoring a pair of first-quarter touchdowns that capped an 80 and 81-yard drive, and added a 19-yard score in the fourth quarter for a 127-yard, three-score effort.
When Gilreath and Hill weren’t carrying the rock, the ball found its way into the hands of freshman John Clay. After rushing for his first-career 100-yard game last week against Michigan State, Clay eclipsed the century mark again, running for 112 yards and a score.
Unofficially, it was the first time in school history that the Badgers had three players gain 100 yards on the ground.
“Today, we had a lot of success and that means everybody was doing their job and executing,” Hill said. “It just felt good being in the huddle with those guys. We had a good week of preparation and guys getting a hat on the guy they are supposed to block. We weren’t letting guys get off of blocks and that’s what it comes down to.”
Moreover, when Scott Tolzien, who replaced Dustin Sherer in the fourth quarter, ran the naked bootleg for a two-yard score late in the fourth, Wisconsin scored its seventh-rushing touchdown, the first time the Badgers have done that since scoring seven against Bowling Green in 2005. UW also gained 600 yards on offense for the first time since November 2003.
"It's great to win," head coach Bret Bielema said. "Any win is good for the soul. Anyway that we can go out and prove to our kids that if you stay with it, stick with it, you can persevere."
Wisconsin jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first off the heels of Hill’s scores but as good as UW’s offense was in the first quarter, the Badger defense and special teams were equally disappointing.
Indiana was able to tack on three scores and 13 points in the first quarter all thanks to Wisconsin miscues. Senior end Matt Shaughnessy was penalized 15 yards for roughing the passer on the Hoosiers opening drive, 15 yards that put Austin Starr into field goal range.
Indiana was able to pick on cornerback Niles Brinkley, whose pass-coverage skills continue to be hit or miss over the pass two weeks. Running a go–route, Andrew Means ran right by Brinkley was wide open in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown, his first of the season, to cut the lead to 14-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, return man Mario Goins was hit head on and fumbled the football on UW’s 16, giving Indiana prime field position.
From that point on, UW’s defense started to come around. Wisconsin’s defense didn’t allow Indiana to gain a yard after Goins’ fumble, forcing Indiana into a field goal, and after Dustin Sherer threw an interception on UW’s ensuing drive, the Badger defense only let the Hoosiers gain three yards and force a turnover on downs.
That positive momentum was short lived. After the Badgers extended their lead to eight on a Gilreath eight-yard touchdown run, the Hoosiers cut the lead back to one on a nine play, 71-yard touchdown drive, capped by a one-yard run by Ben Chappell.
Indiana looked poised to take the halftime lead after Gilreath made his first punting mistake of the season, as the sophomore returner simply whiffed on the catch, giving the Hoosiers the ball on the UW 15. On the very next play, Jay Valai delivers a crushing hit on QB Ben Chappell, forcing the fumble, which DeAndre Levy returned for 47 yards and allowed UW to tack on a Phil Welch 19-yard field goal before halftime.
“They saved my life out there,” said Gilreath, who actually fumbled two punts on Saturday, losing one. “I made a big mistake there and that could have cost us big. They pulled me out of that one.”
That turned the momentum for Wisconsin, who out scored Indiana 31-0 in the second half, turning a close game into a one-sided affair.
“Every Sunday that we watched the film, we can’t argue with the way that they are playing or fighting,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times, battled through it, preserved and came out. The only way you can persevere in these situations is to have great kids that believe and want to have success.
“The game plan definitely was keep the chains moving by running the football. Sometimes our best defense is our offense on the field. You can’t put a price tag on what that does for our momentum.”