Win the Red Zone Battle – When opportunity knocks, Indiana has to be there to answer. Indiana has largely been able to move the ball against each of its first three foes, totaling at least 380 yards of total offense against each team. But yards haven't always meant points for the Indiana offense. Despite the 3-0 record, the Hoosiers rank last in the Big Ten in red zone efficiency, producing points in 10 of 16 trips (62.5 percent). In the matchup against the 17th-ranked Badgers, Indiana can't afford to come away empty when it treks inside the Wisconsin 20.
That means that Blake Powers can't get greedy. Two of IU's spoiled trips inside the red zone have come as a result of interceptions in the end zone, and Powers can't afford to do that Saturday. It also means that Joe Kleinsmith needs to be able to split the uprights when the offense stalls deep. The true freshman converted his first field goal in IU's win against Kentucky, but he's still just 1-of-3 on the season. Indiana has passed on a couple of opportunities to attempt field goals in the mid-40-yard range in previous games, which suggests they're still lacking some confidence in that unit.
Making this task an even tougher one is the fact Wisconsin has been among the league's best in the red zone. The Badgers have converted 87.5 percent (21-of-24) of their red zone opportunities. Eighteen of those trips have resulted in touchdowns, while placekicker Taylor Mehlhaff has converted all four of his field goal attempts that have come inside 50 yards (he's 4-of-5 overall).
Indiana knows it will have its hands full with the Badger running game as well as a Badger defense that has surrendered just 25 combined points in its last three games. Coming away empty-handed when it ventures deep in Wisconsin territory will make for a long Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall.
Punish the Badger corners if they choose to play man-to-man – There will be plenty of times Indiana will line up in three and four-wide receiver sets, and the Badger staff will need to decide whether it's going to combat that with plenty of nickel and dime packages and play zone, or if they're going to line up and play the Hoosiers man-to-man to make sure Indiana can't run the ball effectively out of those sets.
If Wisconsin does opt to play man coverage, Indiana's wide receivers must make the Badgers pay, and pay with the big play. They've done that to each of the first three foes. James Hardy, Marcus Thigpen and Jahkeen Gilmore each has one reception for at least 40 yards this year. They'll need to add to this total on Saturday.
While much of the attention has been on Hardy (17 receptions, 266 yards, 3 TDs) and Gilmore (9 catches, 155 yards, 2 TDs) early on, don't be surprised to see a big game from either Thigpen or IU's fourth wideout, James Bailey. The 5-10 Thigpen will be lined up in the slot, and would appear to have a mismatch if lined up opposite a safety. Not only does he have the speed to get behind the secondary, but he is also elusive in the open field.
Bailey, meanwhile, has just six catches for 82 yards and one touchdown in the first three games, but he'll likely see his most extensive action of the year Saturday. At 6-3 he'll have a big size advantage, and he's also capable to producing a big play once he's in the open field.
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
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday – IU vs. Wisconsin
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