Bringing Down A Giant

Wisconsin's standout cornerback shuts down Indiana's gigantic wide receiver all afternoon, limiting the wide out to just four catches for 17 yards.

MADISON - Wisconsin Badger cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu easily could have failed trying to cover his tallest task of the season. As the Big Ten's leader in touchdown catches this season, 6-foot-7 Indiana wide receiver James Hardy is one of the most dangerous receivers in the conference.

Nevertheless, Ikegwuonu played with a physical style that limited Hardy's production and helped the Badgers prevail 33-3 on Saturday.

Because of Hardy's immense size and physical domination on the field, he sticks out amongst many talented wide receivers in the Big Ten. The Indiana offense focuses so heavily on involving Hardy in its offense that he is able to attack defenses in a variety of roles.

He has been a possession receiver, catching a ball in every game of his three-year career. A big playmaker, 12 catches of over 20 yards this year. And, most importantly, a threat in the redzone, with a touchdown in every game this year.

"He's guy that they try to get the ball to all the time," said Badger cornerback Allen Langford. "He's a top-caliber receiver and a semi- finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (for college football's best wide receiver)."

Every team specifically gameplans on how they will stop the junior phenom. Hardy has caught four catches that have gained at least 47 yards and his 11 touchdowns have carried the Indiana offense. Fresh off his best game of the season – 14 catches, 142 yards and two touchdowns against Penn State – Hardy was looking to dismantle the Badger pass defense.

Fortunately, Wisconsin didn't need to use special packages and assignments to cover Hardy. Ikegwuonu's skills are perfectly suited to counterattack Hardy's talents. Ikegwuonu was consistently able to redirect Hardy's routes at the line of scrimmage.

"Jack's a strong corner and he wanted to go out there and play him straight up," said Langford. "We felt Jack could have a lot of success by playing bump-and-run (coverage) and putting his hands on him."

From what he has told the media, Ikegwuonu loves to handle challenges by himself because he has the size and skills needed to cover the best receivers in the Big Ten. As one of last year's All-Big Ten first-team selection at cornerback, the 6-foot-1 junior was ready for this gigantic challenge.

"He focused on him all week in preparation," said Langford. "He was very enthused going into the game. He took it as a challenge to shut down a big guy."

By using his physical style to bump Hardy at the line of scrimmage, Ikegwuonu held Hardy to just one catch for eight yards in last year's 52-17 UW victory in Bloomington.

That containment continued Saturday when Hardy was held to just four catches for 17 yards and zero touchdowns. His longest play of the day was only eight yards. For someone who specializes in big plays, Hardy could not find success against Ikegwuonu.

"(Wisconsin's) scheme was to shut me down and (Ikegwuonu) was pressing me all day long," said Hardy. "I was still moving any way possible to try to get open, but he did a good job of stopping me."

What's more impressive is how Ikegwuonu responded to such a difficult task.

"We challenged Jack during the course of the week," said head coach Bret Bielema. "There were times where he was left by himself (to cover Hardy), other times he had help. You could definitely see during the course of the game that it frustrated (Hardy)."

Covering talented wide receivers is nothing new for Ikegwuonu. He has been asked to cover the best of the Big Ten including Hardy, Michigan State's Devin Thomas and Michigan's Mario Manningham.

That doesn't mean Ikegwuonu didn't get help from his teammates on Saturday.

"(Hardy) is a big target, he's a 6-foot-7 guy and we're all 5- foot-11," said Langford. "It's gonna take a little bit of help to bring that giant down."

During several plays, Ikegwuonu switched coverage assignments and another Badger was left to cover Hardy. Still, Indiana's stud wide receiver remained quiet all afternoon.

In fact, Hardy's biggest play of the day was a lost fumble in the third quarter. For a player who routinely makes big plays the other way, Hardy certainly didn't have his normal production.

This should not come as shock to anyone who has been watching Ikegwuonu over the course of his career. During the heart of the Big Ten schedule, he has stepped up his game to another level. In the past three games, he has broken up five passes while covering the opposing team's best receiver.

"He's played great the whole year," said Langford. "He's a top- caliber corner and a guy who they call on to do a lot of great things each week."

Ikegwuonu has done a remarkable job of covering such a fantastic receiver. With such a large target as Hardy is, Ikegwuonu made him disappear for much of the game.

"(Hardy) kinda wasn't even out there with Ike on him," said Badger linebacker Elijah Hodge. "We knew that [Hardy] was their go-to-guy and we just put our best guy on him and we saw who won."


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