Three Days and Counting...

HoosierNation.com continues its day-by-day preview of Saturday's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin with a look at three things IU must do to be successful against the Badgers...

Duplicate Last Year's Effort Against the Run - A year ago, the Hoosiers headed to Madison with a primary goal – slow down tailback Brian Calhoun. Indiana loaded up against the run and succeeded in that endeavor, limiting one of the nation's elite running backs to 101 yards on 26 carries. Wisconsin, meanwhile, managed only 103 yards on 38 carries as a team, less than half of what it had been averaging in the non-conference campaign.

What the Badgers, did, though, was pick apart the Hoosier secondary. With IU using primarily man-to-man coverage, Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco had one of his biggest games of the season, going 13-of-24 for 274 yards and three touchdowns. While the Hoosier defense doesn't want to duplicate the 41 points or 274 passing yards it surrendered last season, 2005 is a good blue print for the IU staff to work from. Last season Stocco had a couple of big-play wide receivers in Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr to throw to, but both have since departed. In their place are a handful of talented but unproven youngsters. In Wisconsin's first four games wide receivers have caught only 23 of Stocco's 58 completions, or less than six receptions combined per game.

Forcing Stocco and the wide receivers to make plays is a must for the Hoosier defense.

Get Something…Anything…from the Running Game - Even IU head coach Terry Hoeppner admitted it Tuesday – the Hoosiers have to do a better job of running the football. Earlier in the season Hoeppner suggested others made too big of a deal about the team's modest rushing totals, particularly since the team utilizes a variety of short passing plays that the staff basically view as part of the running game. But after a 27-carry, 0-yard team effort against Connecticut, even Hoeppner acquiesced that it needs to get better.

It starts up front, where the IU offensive line has had a great deal of difficulty opening holes for four different Hoosier tailbacks. It's a long shot to think that's suddenly going to change against a very good Badger defense had has a pair of talented defensive tackles in Jason Chapman and Nick Hayden. But they need to at least give Marcus Thigpen, Demetrius McCray and Josiah Sears an opportunity get some positive yards.

I'm not suggesting Indiana needs to be able to line up and run three straight times between the tackles and consistently move the chains. That isn't going to happen. But with defenses spread out to defend IU's four wide receiver sets, this is supposed to be a big-play running game. On a couple of occasions the line needs to do a good enough job to allow McCray or Thigpen to get into the open field and have a chance to break a big run.

If the IU ground game can just do that, it will at least force the Badger defenders to respect the run and free up some opportunities in the passing game.

Get Something Big From Hardy Early - The Hoosiers' offensive struggles have been obvious in recent weeks, culminating in a zero-point effort against Connecticut over the weekend. The IU staff is hoping that the return of wide receiver James Hardy will help bring the Hoosier offense back to life.

It's unclear what the "personal reasons" were for Hardy's two-game suspension, but it's always been obvious that the 6-7, 216-pound sophomore is a big-play wideout who wants the ball as often as possible. He'll likely get plenty of opportunities to make plays this weekend, and he needs to respond with something special early on to breath some life into the IU attack.

The availability of Jahkeen Gilmore and James Bailey appears to be in question for this weekend, so Hardy's role becomes even more important if they are either out or slowed. The staff has been pleased with the progress of youngsters such as Ray Fisher, Andrew Means and Wisconsin native Nick Polk, but Hardy is the big name with the uncanny ability to make acrobatic catches at important times. He needs to do that Saturday.

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

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