Bloomington – Indiana knows what's coming whenever Wisconsin comes to town.
Bill Lynch's team knows it's going to be going up against a Badger offense that is going to come right at them again…and again…and again. Coach Bret Bielema's team will sprinkle in the occasional reverse, a few misdirection plays and the play-action pass as well, but it's all predicated on the meat-and-potatoes of running a big back behind a big offensive line and wearing teams out.
"The first thing you think of is their power running game," Lynch said. "They are probably more power running than any team we have played. Ohio State was probably the closest in years past, but that has changed with Pryor. Iowa is a zone blocking team as well as Michigan. Virginia was a spread zone. Wisconsin is a team with a good, big running back who is difficult to tackle."
That tailback is John Clay, a 6'1", 248-pounder who leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (839) and rushing touchdowns (10). After splitting carries with Zach Brown early in the season Clay has had at least 20 carries in each of the last five games, including 32 against both Michigan State and Minnesota.
"We know we're going against a big back, bigger than the backs we've played all season," said defensive end Jammie Kirlew. "We're going to have to step it up."
Of course, saying it and doing it are two different things. During the last three seasons Wisconsin has averaged 308 yards rushing/game and has scored 15 rushing touchdowns. That includes a staggering 441-yard, seven-touchdown effort in last season's 55-20 Wisconsin win that saw three Badger runners eclipse the 100-yard mark.
It will be more of the same Saturday, and Kirlew said he's looking forward to the challenge. Indiana has already avenged one landslide defeat from a year ago with the win over Illinois, and the Hoosiers have visions of doing it again against the 24th-ranked Badgers.
"It's going to be tough (dealing with Wisconsin's run-oriented offense), but it's going to be fun, too," Kirlew said. "You're going to be in the middle of the action all the time.
"We are going to have to do a great job of getting pressure up field. Especially on the interior, when we're stacking everyone in the box we have to get pressure and cause them to bubble out, run side to side."
There are a lot of other things Indiana will have to do as well. It will have to protect against the play-action pass and be disciplined enough defensively to not fall victim to the misdirection. Offensively it will need to establish some semblance of a ground attack, something no other Big Ten has been able to do against Wisconsin this season. IU also needs to do a better job of getting one of its biggest playmakers, Tandon Doss, involved as well, whether it's via the run or the pass.
But the bottom line is that if Indiana can't keep Wisconsin from piling up 200-plus yards on the ground then it can't win this game. Two teams have held the Badgers to less than 150 yards rushing, and those teams have won both times. Three teams have held Wisconsin in the 150-200 yard range, and the Badgers have come away with one-possession wins. The final three teams have allowed Bielema's team to rush for 250 yards-plus, and two of those three have been routed.
But once again, knowing what you have to do and then doing it are two entirely different things.
Hoosier Nation's Prediction: Wisconsin 41, Indiana 17
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: One Day and Counting
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