IU safties Nick Polk and Joe Kleinsmith vs. UW play action pass – Wisconsin has long had a reputation as a smash mouth offense, and for good reason. During the last 15 years tailbacks such as Brent Moss, Terrell Fletcher, Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis and now P.J. Hill have consistently put up rushing totals that have ranked them among the conference's and sometimes nation's best. They have run behind monstrous Badger offensive lines and UW has built an identity that has carried over to the post-Barry Alvarez era. Bill Lynch's primary defensive concern this weekend will be keeping the Badger tailback tandem of Hill and John Clay from running at will against his defense, which ranks 10th against the run in conference games with 193.2 yards/game. He'd love to be able to do that with just his front seven, but he's also going to need safeties Nick Polk and Joe Kleinsmith to read the play as well and get into the box and provide run support. The danger, though, is what that could mean when UW goes play action. Wisconsin hasn't had too many All-Big Ten quarterbacks in recent years, but John Stocco had a couple of huge games against IU in 2005 and 2006 and UW has averaged more than 240 yards passing against IU in the last three years. Much of that has come on play action passes where IU's safeties have been sucked down and UW has been able to go over the top for some big gainers. Polk and Kleinsmith will have the most important – and difficult – responsibilities this weekend in making good reads.
IU Offense vs. UW Defense on 3rd Down - If Indiana is going to have a chance to knock off the Badgers for the first time in four years, its offense is going to need to have more success on third down. In nine games the Hoosiers have converted only 29 percent of their third down attempts (36-of-124) and they have out-performed only one opponent in the category this season (Murray State). In the last three games each of IU's foes have converted better than 50 percent of their third downs, while Indiana is 11-of-35 (31.4 percent). To make that happen offensively, the Hoosiers need to avoid the careless penalties that have put them in too many third and longs, and they also need to do a good job with their protection schemes to contain the Badgers' blitz package. Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy (three sacks) and strong safety Jay Valai (one sack) are among those who will be called on at times to get some additional pressure on IU's quarterbacks, especially on third down. One of Indiana's issues will be the fact that its best blocking running back – Bryan Payton – won't be available to provide additional protection against the blitz.
Marcus Thigpen vs. UW's defense and special teams - Indiana's hopes of springing an upset this weekend increase dramatically if it can get a big play or two out of Thigpen. Whether it's in the running game or on special teams, Thigpen is arguably the conference's most dangerous weapon when it comes to the big play. Thigpen has scored five times this season on plays of 67 or more yards this season, including three via the run and two through the air. During his career nine of Thigpen's 20 touchdowns have been on plays of at least 65 yards, including three kickoff returns for scores. Indiana will look for another big play or two from Thigpen again this weekend. A year ago against the Badgers Thigpen had an 84-yard touchdown run called back due to a holding call in the third quarter with IU trailing 17-3. That play let the air out of IU's sails and it wound up losing 33-3. The Hoosiers are hoping the opposite will be true this time around.
What's coming up:
On Monday - Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
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