Five Keys to Victory: Indiana

Despite the ups and downs it has experience throughout the season, Wisconsin can assure itself it will play for a conference championship with a win over Indiana Saturday. Badger Nation gives its five keys to victory.

BadgerNation's Keys to Victory over Michigan State had "health" as a key. Little did we know that the health of Joel Stave would be the main concern. The Badgers scored one touchdown while Stave was in the game and none after he left with a broken collarbone. The unexpected home loss to the Spartans renders today's matchup with Indiana an improbably important game for deciding who represents the division at the Championship game in Indianapolis.

1, Pressuring the QB

A strong Badgers unit might need to pitch a shutout. This will be no easy task. Indiana has won its last two games, albeit against poor Illinois and Iowa squads, but even in losses to strong defensive teams the Hoosiers have put up lots of points (27 and 49 in consecutive home losses to Michigan State and Ohio State). The Indiana passing game is the strength of the offense with a season total of 2,699 yards via the air as opposed to 1,321 rushing. QB Cameron Coffman has a respectable pass completion rate of 63.5 percent and a QB rating of 130. Four Indiana receivers have caught 30 or more passes on the year led by wide outs Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn and tight end Ted Bosler. UW must get pressure on Coffman, including via the blitz if the defensive ends are getting home. The Badgers' secondary of Dezmen Southward, Shelton Johnson, Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie have been improving all season, but they will have their hands full with Indiana's multiple receiving threats. Coffman can't be allowed time to pick his targets. Likewise the Badgers have been better at creating turnovers via interceptions. A short field at a critical juncture might be the turning point.

2, The Badger under center

The Badgers face a curious situation. After three years of strong play at QB, producing some of the most efficient offenses in Big Ten history, this Saturday the Badgers might run more snaps out of Barge formation designed to run without a true QB. Senior QB Curt Phillips has been chosen as the starter – his first starting assignment - and junior QB Danny O'Brien appears to be the backup. Indiana comes in to the game 75th in scoring defense, giving up an almost equal number of yards passing and rushing. Since the Badgers have shown no ability to pass the ball, the best run option should dictate play. They key for the offense is to run as many times as possible, eat the clock and keep favorable field position. This suggests running the "Barge" formation as often as possible. This might not be a feasible strategy next week when facing Ohio State at home. It might be just enough to beat Indiana.

3, Ricky Wagner's effectiveness

Having missed the last two games after having suffered a knee injury in the game against Purdue, the return of Wagner to the starting lineup should give the offensive line a big boost. If this unit doesn't show improvement, the number of nautical-themed jokes about Badger offensive coordinator Matt Canada's "Barge" formation will reach typhoon proportions.

4, Badger kicking game

We highlighted the special teams units two weeks ago, and they delivered for the most part. This will probably be a one-score game. Missed field goals or extra points, or bad field position exchanges could tip the balance.

5, Coaching strategy

With so much uncertainty on offense, and with so much riding on the outcome, the Badgers coaching staff needs to adapt. If Phillips starts but does not perform as hoped, the coaches will need to act. Whether that means O'Brien plays or the Badgers resort to an offense reminiscent of The Seven Blocks of Granite of Fordham/Lombardi fame is to be seen.

Fearless Prediction

It may be fearless, but the prediction is without confidence in no small part because of the unsettled situation for the Badgers offense. Should the Barge be stuck, we'll pick a Badger victory, 28-20. Should the coaches stay too long with Phillips, we'll predict a score of 24-10, Indiana.

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