LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Indiana University football team lost its most experienced defensive player, linebacker Marcelino Ball, before the season kicked off.
The Hoosiers have been without more than a half-dozen solid players since October because of injuries, the novel coronavirus and personal reasons.
Saturday at an empty Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, a long-time house of horror for IU football, the Hoosiers had to show they had the grit to continue their dream season without their best player — quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
After 10 consecutive losses to Wisconsin by an average of more than 35 points, Indiana out-toughed the Badgers, 14-6, for their sixth win in seven games, even though the Hoosiers were outgained, 342-217.
"When you talk about what a team win is going to look like in our program, this is one I'm going to point to," said Allen, who was surrounded by his players on the field during a postgame television interview. "This team just keeps fighting; they keep on staying strong. They don't blink."
Ask the rest of the Big Ten. Only unbeaten Ohio State is delivering a stronger season than No. 10 Indiana. The Hoosiers have beaten Michigan for the first time in 25 games, Wisconsin for the first time in 11 games and Penn State for the first time in seven games.
Allen has positioned himself to win the national coach of the year award. Right?
"One hundred percent, without a doubt," IU linebacker Micah McFadden said. "He brings the energy each and every day. We recognize that and we appreciate it. That's where the love comes from."
"He doesn't get the credit he deserves," IU cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. "Nobody else gives him the credit so we give him the credit."
"Coach Allen says it all the time and nobody really believes him but it's LEO (Love Each Other)," quarterback Jack Tuttle said. "We play for each other and we play for Indiana. That's all it really is."
The Indiana defense did not allow a touchdown for the second time in the last four games.
Tuttle replaced Penix — and delivered a Hollywood moment, sprinting back to the field to play midway through the fourth quarter after he went to the locker room following a blow to the head delivered by two Wisconsin players on a sideline hit.
Although he was a top recruit (for Utah) in 2018, this was the first college start for Tuttle, a high school star in suburban San Diego. He had thrown five passes all season, just 16 in the last three seasons.
The moment did not swallow Tuttle, other than one sloppy fumble on a quarterback sneak in the third quarter. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 122 yards without an interception.
He threw a pair of touchdown passes. At least one came on a throw that would not have been automatic for Penix to make.
"Most people wrote us off after we lost Michael Penix," Allen said.
The first was also the first TD pass of his career — a sharp 1-yard throw to tight end Peyton Hendershot. The second was the more difficult throw, a 7-yard rainbow over the shoulders of a Wisconsin cornerback in the left corner of the end zone to Whop Philyor.
Tuttle should have had a third TD pass, but Miles Marshall dropped the ball inside the Wisconsin 20-yard line in the third quarter without a defender within 10 yards.
Tuttle's most memorable move did not result in a touchdown. He sprinted onto the field seconds before true freshman Dexter Williams was about to play his first college snap when Indiana had the ball on its 14 with 8:50 to play. Although he had been down and dazed, Tuttle directed an eight-play, 27-yard drive that burned more than four minutes.
"I just wanted to get back on the field," Tuttle said. "That's really it. I love my teammates and I wanted to be back on the field."
Indiana's defense limited Wisconsin to a pair of field goals in three trips to the red zone. The Badgers had averaged more than 51 points in their last 10 games against Indiana. The IU defense added an interception and fumble recovery, giving the Hoosiers 20 takeaways in seven games.
"I felt like we could be a top-10 defense at the beginning of the year," Allen said.
"The defense played great," Tuttle said. "They did an amazing job.
Indiana will return to Bloomington to host Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game Dec. 12. Then IU will likely play a team from the Big Ten West on Dec. 19.
Purdue and coach Jeff Brohm slipped to 2-4 on Saturday. The Boilermakers were beaten at home by Nebraska, 37-27.
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