What to Expect when you're Expecting: Wisconsin at Indiana

Pat Lovell-US PRESSWIRE

The Hoosier football team faces its biggest football game of the last 20 years when Wisconsin comes to town. The Badgers are a bit beat up, and are coming off a bye week after an OT loss to Michigan State. What should Hoosier fans look for on Saturday?

So, we have come to the "one game the Badgers will win." Of course, that preview was written back in the days when the Badgers were expected to be a top 10 ten, borderline top 5 even.They were considered a lock for nine wins and over as well as possible BCS title and Heisman contention. Instead, UW is coming in with a 6-3 record, and narrow wins over Utah State and Northern Iowa. Now, it seems like a disappointing season, but remember that the Badgers really have only three 3-point losses. Danny O'Brien was not the transfer-savior at QB, and Montee Ball has not busted loose for Hesiman contention, sure. But really, compared to the rest of the Big Ten, they're doing just fine. They're in the lead to make the Big Ten championship game and a possible Rose Bowl berth, and certainly aren't afraid of anyone they might meet in that championship game.

I'd like to run through the reasons that I see that both teams have cause for optimism coming into this game on Saturday, starting with IU.

The Hoosiers should be optimistic because:

  1. The Hoosiers have to be sky-high in confidence, and itching to paste an upset on the team that has made them look terrible in their last two head-to-head match-ups.
  2. Outside of the win at Purdue, the Badgers have lost their road games.
  3. With UW's similar victory margin over Illinois and their loss against Michigan State (who the Hoosiers played well against) the Hoosiers have got to be thinking this a UW team that there is a real honest-to-God chance that IU might come out and look like a better team, at least in stretches.
  4. The Badger offense is quite mediocre, and was one-dimensional even before the loss of their QB Joel Stave.

The Badgers should be optimistic because:

  1. They posses an "explosive ground game" destroyed Minnesota with three top-notch rushers. And the IU defense has not faced rushing challenges particularly well. Even Indiana State outgained the Hoosiers on the ground.
  2. The Badgers are coming off a close home loss to a tough team in OT, so they'll be motivated.
  3. Those other road losses that UW suffered were to ranked teams. (Oregon State is #11/13, Nebraska #16/18)
  4. There's a bit of pregame hype surrounding this as the game to decide the Rose bowl berth. UW worked pretty well with this pressure on the road against Purdue.
For these reasons, I wouldn't look for a letdown against Indiana. Even though the Badgers have their own QB controversy (Danny O'Brien or the former blue-chip, oft-injured Curt Phillips?), the bulk of the team that has given the Badgers a winning record this season is still there. I will bet Indiana comes out guns blazing, and I would bet that CamCoffman starts at QB (Sudfeld may or may not finish, depending on how the game goes). It's a big game, and I think Coffman will handle the pressure better. The Wisconsin rushing attack can explode, but has had trouble asserting its superiority throughout the season. I don't think they do quite as well against an enthusiastic Hoosier defense on the road as they did against Minnesota and Purdue, at least at first. I think IU hangs an early lead, takes a punch or two in the late first quarter or early second, and punches back for a narrow halftime lead. Eventually, though, that rushing attack is going to take its toll on the Hoosiers. Look for Ball, James White, or Melvin Gordon to break off a long run or two to give the Badgers a solid lead. Once the Badgers have that lead, I think it will be very hard for the Hoosiers to surmount it without some real breaks, like recovered onside kicks or fumbles that happen to go IU's way.
IU will take some shots, and look respectable, and my heart wants to believe they'll come through at the end and make a vulnerable giant pay. My head says that their vaunted rushing attack is just too much for Indiana to overcome this season. But as long as the Hoosiers continue to grow and play with pride, I will be happy.
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