UW CB Jack Ikegwuonu vs. IU WR James Hardy – Badger Coach Bret Bielema has been talking about making Kellen Lewis and the Indiana offense play "left handed" this weekend. What's Bielema's point? The UW coach isn't talking about knocking Kellen Lewis and back-up Ben Chappell out of the game so IU has to go to its third-stringer, left-hander Teddy Schell. No, what Bielema wants to do is take away the Hoosiers' bread-and-butter, and that's the Lewis-to-Hardy pitch-and-catch combination that's been so effective this season.
"(Lewis) has a very key player that he likes to throw the ball to," Bielema said. "Hardy has been very, very good for him. That's a key match-up for us, to be able to deny those things."
Hardy is coming off a career-high 14 reception day last week against Penn State, and his 11 touchdown receptions is tops among all Big Ten receivers. He's caught at least one touchdown in each of IU's eight games, and that's a streak that Bielema hopes Ikegwuonu can halt. Not only is Ikegwuonu the Badgers' best and most experienced cornerback, he's also their biggest. At 6'1" and 193 pounds he'll still be at a noticeable size disadvantage against the 6'6", 225-pound Hardy, but he should prove to be a better match-up than 5'11" Allen Langford or 6'0", 169-pound true freshman Aaron Henry.
IU FS Nick Polk and SS Austin Thomas vs. UW QB Tyler Donovan – Priority No. 1 for the Hoosier defense is to stop the run. Indiana is giving up a Big Ten-worst 216.0 rushing yards/game since conference play opened, and it's going up against a tailback in P.J. Hill who ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing (1,009 yards) and first in touchdowns (13).
That means Polk on occasion and Thomas in particular will spend plenty of time creeping down into the box to try to out-number the Badger blockers and keep Hill from chewing up yards and dominating the game. But that will also make the Hoosier safeties susceptible to Badger quarterback Tyler Donovan with the play-action pass.
It's a recipe that's been disastrous in each of the past two seasons against then-UW quarterback John Stocco. A statistically pedestrian quarterback at UW, Stocco had a couple of career days against IU in 2005 and 2006, completing a combined six passes for 35 yards or more. Most of those big gainers came on play-action, when the IU safeties bit on the fake and left the Hoosier corners on an island.
It's going to be up to Thomas and Polk to provide plenty of run support, but not get baited into biting on the play action. If that happens, Donovan could also be poised for a big afternoon.
IU OLs Jon Sandberg, Ben Wyss and Pete Saxon vs. UW DTs Jason Chapman and Nick Hayden Bill Lynch said that his two offensive tackles, Rodger Saffold and Mike Stark, both graded out well with their performances against Penn State Saturday. The issue with the sacks, though, was the Nittany Lions generated plenty of pressure up the middle, with Maurice Evans and others consistently getting after IU QB Kellen Lewis. Saxon in particular struggled last week with the Lions' athleticism up front, and was eventually replaced by Kyle Thomas.
Saxon figures to be back in the lineup this week, and he and the rest of the interior of the Hoosiers' offensive line will need to do a better job against a pair of talented defensive tackles in Chapman and Hayden. The pair have combined for 50 tackles, 8 ½ tackles for loss and five sacks, and they'll prove to be plenty for the Hoosier linemen to handle.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
WISCONSIN: Three Days and Counting
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