The Hoosiers know what to expect when the Badgers arrive in town for Saturday's match-up.
Coach Bret Bielema's squad is very similar to most of the Wisconsin teams in recent memory – a big, physical unit that loves to wear teams down with its ability to run the football and play defense. The Badgers feature 5-11, 242-pound redshirt freshman tailback P.J. Hill - the nation's 10th ranked rusher at 117.2 yards/game – and a defense that ranks No. 17 nationally in total defense.
Of course, knowing what's coming and figuring out how to stop it is two different things.
"It's a similar team (to last year's Wisconsin squad)," said IU's co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic. "We need to go in and stop the run, and we need to do a better job of not giving up those play action passes that hurt us (last year)."
Indiana traveled to Madison a year ago with the goal of slowing down UW tailback Brian Calhoun and the Badger ground game, and they did just that. Wisconsin managed just 103 rushing yards, including 101 on 26 carries from Calhoun. But with IU crowding the box, Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco responded with his biggest statistical game of the season, completing 13-of-24 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 41-24 win.
While the Hoosiers are hoping for a different end result this weekend, the strategy figures to be the same on the defensive side of the ball.
"We have similar goals – we want to stop the run, because that's what they want to do first and foremost," Palcic said. "They have a real big back (Hill), who reminds me of a young Ron Dayne. So they want to run the ball and they're going to hand it off.
"We have to do our job, similar to what we did against Connecticut. Same game plan. Stop the run, and when they throw we have to be in the right place to stop that."
The Hoosier corners weren't in the right spot in last year's match-up in Madison, but the Badgers don't have the same sort of playmakers at wide receiver they had a year ago. Wisconsin lost its all-time leading receiver Brandon Williams along with Jonathan Orr, a pair of players who are currently on NFL rosters. In their place are juniors Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan, a duo that has a combined 19 receptions in UW's first four games.
That's reason for some level of optimism on the Hoosiers' part, as is the fact the defense surrendered only seven points a week ago to Connecticut.
"We preached being more physical, being better tacklers, doing our job on defense and playing for 60 minutes last week and we came out and did it," Palcic said. "That's added to our confidence."
Offensively the Hoosiers floundered a week ago, totaling zero rushing yards on 27 carries, turning the ball over four times, and venturing into UConn territory only three times in 16 drives. But the hope is the return of 6'7" wideout James Hardy and Coach Terry Hoeppner will breath some life into the offense. It won't come easy, though, against a Wisconsin defense that is surrendering only 245 yards/game, including just 140.2 through the air.
With the return of Hoeppner and Hardy, look for the Hoosiers to play their best game of the year. While back-to-back losses might normally lead to a letdown, Hoeppner's return to the sidelines figures to ignite the Hoosiers this weekend in a game that they know they have to win if they want to continue to talk about "playing 13."
Ultimately, though, Wisconsin's huge offensive line figures to wear the IU defense down, and the Hoosiers' front five will have its hands full with a very good Badger front four. Expect a close game early on, but the Badgers pull away late.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Indiana 17.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday - Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Big Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
One Day and Counting...
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