Four Days and Counting

As Indiana prepares for its Big Ten opener on Saturday in Madison, HoosierNation.com takes a close look at four key matchups that will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's contest...

UW FB Matt Bernstein vs. IU MLB John Pannozzo A couple of New Yorkers will be pivotal in this Big Ten battle. If there's one thing that 16 years of Barry Alvarez football has taught those around the league, it's that the Badgers will run and run and run some more unless you figure out a way to stop them. Through four games, Badger foes are 0-4 in that endeavor, with Wisconsin piling up nearly 240 yards/game on the ground.

While Brian Calhoun's exploits garner national headlines, don't underestimate the value of Bernstein, a 6-1, 260-pounder from Scarsdale, N.Y. He's a bulldozer of a blocker, and he'll be seeking out the fullback-turned-middle linebacker Pannozzo more often than not. Count on some huge collisions between these two before the afternoon is over. Pannozzo will have to be able to shed those blocks and keep Calhoun from getting into the secondary. Once Calhoun gets in the open field, he's a threat to take it the distance.

Indiana WRs James Hardy and Jahkeen Gilmore vs. Wisconsin CB Allen Langford One area Indiana will have an edge over just about every opponent is with its size at wide receiver. That will be particularly noticeable with the 5-11, 187-pound redshirt freshman Langford, who will be giving up eight inches when he's lined up against Hardy, and he'll be giving up nearly 30 pounds when he's going up against Gilmore.

While Langford has been a pleasant surprise for the Badgers since moving into the starting lineup in week two, he very well could be getting his biggest test this weekend. Hardy is adept at going up and over corners for jump balls, and Indiana will undoubtedly try to use that to their advantage this weekend. Gilmore, meanwhile, is a physical wideout will present a different sort of challenge to Langford.

This is also an interesting matchup because Langford, a native of Detroit, originally verballed to Indiana two years ago before de-committing and instead signing with Wisconsin. At different times during the contest Langford will likely be lined up opposite a pair of Detroit-area Hoosier wideouts who were also in that 2003 class – Marcus Thigpen and James Bailey.

UW WR Brandon Williams vs. IU CBs Leslie Majors/Tracy Porter/special teams – Williams can hurt Indiana in a couple of ways – in the passing game as well as on special teams. Limiting his impact in critical to Indiana's hopes for success.

Offensively, Indiana will likely try to focus on slowing down the Badger running attack, which means Indiana's corners will often find themselves in one-on-one coverage with Williams. Williams is averaging only 12.7 yards on his team-high 13 catches and has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season, but he does have big-play capability. He'll likely conclude his Badger career as the school's all-time leader in receptions, which is no small feat considering the mark is currently held by Buffalo Bill starter Lee Evans.

Williams is probably most dangerous, though, on special teams where he ranks in the top ten nationally in both punt returns (10th-18.7/return) and kickoff returns (8th-37.3). He's had a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown this season, as well as an 85-yard return on a kickoff. Indiana can't afford to lose the special teams battle if it hopes to spring the upset, and containing Williams is a huge part of negating Wisconsin's advantage in that category.

IU QB Blake Powers vs. the Badger crowd – Indiana's sophomore quarterback will have his hands full with not only the 11 Badger defenders in the field, but also the 80,000-plus Cardinal-clad fans in newly-renovated Camp Randall Stadium. With all due respect to Michigan Stadium and Ohio Stadium, Camp Randall is this writer's pick as the toughest place for an opposing quarterback to play thanks to a gameday atmosphere that is second to none in the Big Ten.

Powers has only seen significant playing time in two road games during his IU career – last season at Illinois and in this year's season opener at Central Michigan. He struggled mightily in relief of Matt LoVecchio in last season's loss in Champaign, and then recovered from a slow start to help guide the Hoosiers to a 20-13 victory in Mt. Pleasant three and a half weeks ago. But on Saturday, he'll be playing in front of a crowd that will be twice as big – and twice as loud – as anything he's seen in the past.

How Powers deals with the noise and the hostile crowd will be huge for an offense that is going to have to be able to put together sustained drives to keep a dangerous Badger offense off the field. If he gets rattled, Indiana could be in for a long day.

What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction

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