Terry Hoeppner knows Indiana's mission on Saturday is to slow down the vaunted ground game of Wisconsin, but the first-year Hoosier coach also knows stopping it entirely is just wishful thinking.
"Did you say stop it?" asked Hoeppner when questioned about the Badger ground game. "That would be a really good idea, but I don't think that that's possible to do."
It's proven to be too tall of an order for Wisconsin's first four opponents, who have surrendered an average of 239 yards/game on the ground to the Badgers. Wisconsin ran for a season-high 388 yards in its season opener against Bowling Green, while last week's 140-yard total against Michigan was its season low.
Indiana hopes to avoid being the Badgers' fifth victim when the two teams square off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
The majority of the work is being done by junior Brian Calhoun, a Oak Creek, Wis., native who transferred from Colorado a year ago. In his first season as the starter, Calhoun has gone over 150 yards in three of Wisconsin's four games, including 155 yards last week in Wisconsin's come-from-behind, 23-20 win over Michigan.
While Indiana's offense is about striking a balance between the run and the pass, Wisconsin's is about bludgeoning opponents with four quarters of smash mouth football. Through its first four games, the Badgers have run the ball 211 times compared to just 90 pass attempts.
"They don't make any bones about it – we're going to run the football, and then we're going to run the football," said Hoeppner.
Calhoun has been a workhorse, carrying the ball a NCAA-high 127 times in Wisconsin's first four games. In addition, he also leads the team in receptions with 13, and is undoubtedly the primary concern for an opposing defense that's trying to figure out a way to slow down the Badgers.
"(Calhoun) is outstanding," said Hoeppner. "If you didn't have to play against him he'd really be fun to watch because not only of how productive he is, but the way he plays the game. He plays so hard. He takes big hits, he pops up, he hands the ball to the official and you go, Wow. I'm really impressed with him, observing him, how he plays the game."
Slowing down Calhoun, though, starts with the defensive line holding its own against an experienced offensive line. Senior nose guard Russ Richardson will have his hands full, lining up opposite senior center and team captain Donovan Raoila.
"We need to combat their aggressiveness and their drive to always finish every play," said Richardson. "It seems their offensive line really competes. They aren't just out there shield blocking…the only way to combat their 11 guys coming as hard as they can is for our 11 guys to go as hard as we can.
"Everyone has to fly around to the ball like a bunch of mad men."
If Indiana's defense can do that, Hoeppner hopes that his unit can contain – but not control – the Wisconsin ground attack.
"If we can contain, slow down a little bit the running game, and at times stop it (that's good)…but I don't think you can go in there and say we are going to stop the running game," said Hoeppner. "That's not going to happen because they do it so well, it's what they do."
After getting off to a 3-0 start, Hoeppner knows that his team will have to play its best game of the season to date to have a chance for an upset of the 17th-ranked Badgers. While Wisconsin was picked by many to finish in the middle of the league standings at the start of the season, its 4-0 start have them positioned to contend for a league title.
"This is not a run of the mill, mediocre, middle of the pack team that we're playing," said Hoeppner. "This is a team that is now in position to contend for the Big Ten championship, and who knows – maybe more. This will be another good barometer for us."
Hoeppner, Hoosiers On The Run
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