Another fuel gauge check? - There's been a reoccurring theme since Big Ten play opened – Indiana goes on the road, gives itself a chance to win, but fails to come up with the plays in the second half to secure a season-shifting victory. It happened in the opener at Michigan then again the last two weeks at Northwestern and Iowa. In each case the Hoosiers headed into the fourth quarter with a lead, and each time they were overtaken by an opponent that made all of the plays that Indiana couldn't at crunch time.
In each case, there's been a real concern from outsiders that those demoralizing losses would serve as a spike strip to the Hoosiers' season. Those kinds of gut-wrenching defeats – particularly when you're at a school that doesn't have a smorgasbord of marquee victories on its resume – often let the air of the tires of the season. That's especially true when those losses move you closer and closer to bowl ineligibility.
But thus far, Indiana hasn't crumbled in response to the tough setbacks. That was particularly true last weekend when Indiana went on the road and out-played No. 4 Iowa for three quarters before caving in the fourth quarter and losing by 18, 42-24. The Hoosiers' finish certainly can't be applauded, but their resiliency following a tough loss at Northwestern is worth noting.
Indiana will need to show that same sort of resolve on Saturday when it hosts an emotionally-charged Wisconsin team at Noon at Memorial Stadium. The Badgers are coming off a 37-0 romp over Purdue, a victory that righted the ship following back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Iowa. Coach Bret Bielema's team is now bowl eligible and has four very winnable games remaining on the schedule that have them thinking about a 10-win season. The Hoosiers have responded in recent weeks to this sort of challenge, and they'll have to do it again Saturday.
Something old is something new - The Big Ten built a reputation as a grind-it-out, three yards and a cloud of dust league back during the heydays of Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler. Since that time a lot has changed in the conference. Purdue was the first to bring the spread attack into the conference in the mid-1990s, and since then Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and recently Michigan have been among the programs that have adopted a very different approach on the offensive side of the ball. In many cases smash mouth football has given way to dual-threat quarterbacks and four wide receiver sets around the conference.
But Wisconsin is a different story. When Indiana lines up against Bielema's team it will be going up against a team that tries to do things the old fashioned way. The Badgers will usually line up with two tight ends and pound away with tailback John Clay. That's an approach that's worked well with the 6'1", 248-pound sophomore, who has four 100-yard games to his credit this season. Wisconsin runs the ball 61.2 percent of the time, easily the highest percentage of runs vs. passes in the conference. If teams get baited into inching their safeties down to slow down the run, the Badgers can then go over the top with the play-action pass.
That's old school Big Ten football, but there aren't many teams doing things that way anymore. It will be something new for Indiana to deal with this weekend, and Bill Lynch's team will have to show that it's able to match up physically. Wisconsin has a couple of 6'7", 330-pound offensive tackles to contend with, and each member of the Badgers' offensive line stands at least 6"4" and weighs at least 315 pounds. Add in a couple of 240-pound tight ends and a 250-pound tailback carrying the ball and Wisconsin will look to pound away and wear Indiana down.
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
WISCONSIN: Two Days and Counting
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