Hoosier Defense To Be Put To The Test

The Hoosier defense will be presented with a test in Football 101 Saturday in Madison. Stop the run. Make ‘em pass.

The Hoosier defense will be presented with a test in Football 101 Saturday in Madison.

Stop the run.

Make ‘em pass.

Of course, this is far from your run-of-the-mill, 100-level exam that Indiana will be taking at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium.

This is Wisconsin, which has not only runs the ball to the tune of nearly 240 yards/game, but has built its reputation on the ground attack during the Barry Alvarez era. This is a program that had a 1,000-yard rusher for ten consecutive years from 1993-2002. Four of the program's top five all-time leading rushers have come during the Alvarez era, including 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne (7,125 yards) and 2004 graduate Anthony Davis (4,676 yards).

"They have a great offense, and they run the ball well and they pass well when they pass," said senior linebacker John Pannozzo. "First we have to worry about the run. They have a lot of great linemen, they have a really good tailback and a good fullback. It's going to be a difficult challenge."

While it's tailback Brian Calhoun who's been grabbing national headlines as one of the nation's leading runners, much of his success is a result of an offensive line that has been better than many expected. Only two starters returned from last year's unit – center Donovan Raiola and left tackle Joe Thomas, a pair of preseason honorable mention All-Americans.

But those two, along with senior left guard Matt Lawrence, senior right guard Jason Palermo, redshirt freshman right tackle Kraig Urbek and senior tight end Owen Daniels have played integral roles in the Badgers' 4-0 start, which includes last week's 23-20 win over Wisconsin.

Hoosier nose guard Russ Richardson – who will be lined up opposite Raiola – watched Saturday's Wisconsin-Michigan matchup and came away impressed with the energy level of the offensive line.

"Those guys really compete and they finish every play," said Richardson. "They aren't out there just shield blocking."

Their success has in turn resulted in some huge numbers for Calhoun in the early going. The 5-10, 194-pounder ranks third nationally in rushing with 156.5 yards/game, including a career-high 258 in the season opener against Bowling Green.

"He's a really good tailback," said Pannozzo. "He runs hard, he runs low, he's fast and he can shake you. We'll have to do a good job of stopping him and wrapping him up."

That's a big task in a game that is arguably the biggest that any player on the IU roster has played in at the college level. While Indiana is a 17 1/2 –point underdog to the 17th-ranked Badgers, the Hoosiers know that a win in Madison would take them one huge step closer to their goal of playing in a postseason bowl game for the first time since 1993.

"This is probably the biggest game I've been a part of at IU for a long time," said Richardson. "We're going to a place against a team that's undefeated and we're undefeated. It's a place that's notorious for being crazy and a hostile environment, and we're going to go there and not a lot of people are going to like us there."

There's no question that Indiana's defense will be put to the test.

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