WISCONSIN: Two Days and Counting

Indiana plays its eighth and final home game of the season on Saturday when it hosts the struggling Wisconsin Badgers (4-5/1/5) at Noon. HoosierNation.com continues its day-by-day preview of this weekend's match-up with "Two Big Concerns" for the Hoosiers…

Who will be healthy enough to play safety this weekend – The play of the safeties will be critical this weekend against Wisconsin, and IU Coach Bill Lynch isn't exactly sure who he'll have available.

Strong safety Austin Thomas is already out for the season with an ACL injury, and now free safety Nick Polk seems questionable after colliding with Geno Johnson in practice Wednesday. With Jerimy Finch unlikely to be much of a factor as well due to an ankle injury, the make-up of IU's safeties this weekend could be nothing like what most expected when the season first got underway.

That's not a good situation for a match-up against a power running team like Wisconsin, which puts plenty of pressure on opposing safeties to be a big part of the gameplan against the run as well as the pass.

"That's why a really good power running team stresses you so much because you have to get the safeties involved to stop the run, and you worry about the play action over the top," Lynch said.

That's what happened the last time these two teams met in Bloomington. Badger quarterback John Stocco completed 15-of-17 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, including four pass plays of at least 35 yards, in a 52-17 Badger rout.

Indiana can't afford to let current Badger quarterback Dustin Sherer have similar success on the deep ball, but it also can't allow the Wisconsin tailback tandem of P.J. Hill and John Clay to run at will, either. To keep that from happening, the IU staff will lean on veterans Joe Kleinsmith, Brandon Mosley and Polk (if he's healthy) to make good reads and step up into the box against the run and be able to provide support over the top against the pass.

"It's a balancing act," Lynch said. "You have to be strong and make sure they don't run the ball up and down the field on you."

Will Indiana play as if there's still something to play for? - After going to the program's first bowl game in 14 years last fall, the 2008 season wasn't supposed to turn out this way.

The consensus was that with an abundance of starters returning and a relatively soft schedule Indiana would possibly already be bowl eligible by this point in the season. But thanks in some part to a rash of injuries have hit the team hard throughout the season, and the Hoosiers have lost six out of seven and their postseason hopes are nearly extinguished.

The question becomes whether or not the team will play as if there's still something to accomplish this season. Indiana still has a couple of winnable games on its schedule in Wisconsin (4-5) and Purdue (3-6), but this weekend's match-up against the Badgers could mirror the outcomes against Iowa and Illinois last month if there's a lack of intensity and focus Saturday afternoon. But Lynch believes he's seen positive signs at practice and in meetings this week to suggest that won't happen.

"I think we've practiced very well the last two days and I think they've been very attentive in meetings," Lynch said. "I think that's the best judge we have.

"They know a couple of things – this is the last home football game, and that means something to guys, particularly seniors. And also the respect we have for Wisconsin. And we also have great challenges the two weeks after that. So there's a lot to play for."

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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