After an emotional game against the Huskers and a week off to recuperate, Wisconsin will cap one of the longest home stretches in recent program history when it hosts Indiana on Oct.15 at 11 a.m.
Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has taken over the head coaching ranks for Bill Lynch, who went 19-30 overall in four seasons at Indiana, including 6-26 in the conference, and it's apparent that Wilson has embraced his new challenge.
In addition to wearing throwback uniforms this season (Indiana did make six bowl games from 1986 to 93), Wilson has already switched the defensive scheme to 4-3 to hopefully put more pressure on opposing offenses (the Hoosiers had only 15 sacks and 61 TFLs last season), and allow the secondary to make more plays (that had only eight interceptions last season). Indiana will need to improve quickly, seeing as its best defensive player from a year ago – strong safety Mitchell Evans – left with his 69 tackles and team-best three interceptions.
Wilson's strength isn't in offense, but even he knows that the key to disrupting an offense's rhythm is a successful pass rush. Wilson's cupboard is pretty bare, but the Hoosiers have a couple of options in Darius Johnson (a 6-foot, 241 pound redshirt senior) and Kevin Bush (6-foot-3, 253 pound redshirt junior).
Both contributed last year to the defense, combined for 76 tackles (37 solos), 7.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 23 games played. Johnson has risen from a scout team linebacker as a redshirt in 2007 to the team's top defensive end in 2011 if the Hoosiers best player on the defensive line after earning the Big Play Maker Award on defense. Bush came to Indiana after serving three years in the Armed Forces and plays like it, extremely smart and determined.
Getting to his specialty, Wilson also must develop a new quarterback, as two-year starter Ben Chappell graduated. Chappell was the key to an offense that had virtually no running game last year, and the burden will now fall on sophomore quarterbacks Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker to lead the team.
Kiel has spent the last two seasons at Indiana preparing for his first real shot at starting, which finally arrives this fall. Last season Kiel got game reps in five different contests, but is still looking for his first touchdown pass and only completed 4 of his 17 passes. Wright-Baker is a dual-threat quarterback with plenty of athleticism, but a very raw passer.
Whichever quarterback wins the job will have to command a running game that has no definite starter and was ravished with injuries throughout the spring. Darius Willis returns as the team's leading rusher from a year ago, but he only had 278 rushing yards and has been injured most of his career. The passing also got a huge blow when Tandon Doss left early for the NFL, leaving the brunt of workload on senior Damarlo Belcher, who will have to duplicate his 78 catches for 832 yards (10.7 yards per catch) if not more for Indiana to be competitive.
"His vocal skills have increased a lot," said Wilson of Belcher. "And on the field he can kill you deep, he can kill you short. He's shown that he can take a slant to the house. I think he is stepping up and helping lead us all."
Wilson is bringing an up-tempo, fast-paced offensive attack to Indiana. Too bad it won't reflect right away. Indiana has a lot of holes to fill, and while Wilson should make them a better squad, Wisconsin could certainly challenge last year's point total against the Hoosiers.
Overall Record: Wisconsin leads 36-18-2
Record in Madison: Wisconsin leads 20-8-1
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won, 83-20, in Madison in 2010