To be honest, I’m not sure if Badgers fans know what to expect on Saturday. Curt Phillips, despite being a fifth-year senior, is making his first career start at quarterback. Our offense, which had compiled 107 points over the previous three games, managed only 13 in an overtime loss to Michigan St. two weeks ago. Defensively, we think we’re solid… but Bret Bielema has twice over the past two weeks favorably compared Indiana’s offense to Oregon’s. Sure, it’s Avoid Bulletin Board Material At All Costs coachspeak, but some Badgers fans are still reeling from the way the Ducks shredded us in the Rose Bowl. Simply put, I think Wisconsin fans are mostly optimistic since Indiana is, well, Indiana. Yet, we would not be surprised to see a game where the Hoosiers catch fire and the Curt Phillips-led offense is not able to catch up.
2. Do you have a sense of who will be playing QB for Wisconsin this weekend? Do you prefer Curt Phillips or Danny O'Brien, and why?
The news leaked on Wednesday that Phillips will start, and I imagine Bielema will confirm that when we meets with the media on Thursday night. Personally, I’m happy to see Phillips get a shot. He’s endured three knee surgeries as a result of torn ACLs, yet by all accounts, he’s earned legitimate respect from his teammates and the coaching staff by preserving and being a positive influence on all the quarterbacks that have passed by him.
That said, Phillips has always been regarded as a quarterback whose most glaring strength was his mobility. After all those surgeries, who knows how fast he is anymore (in-season practices are closed to the media, so pretty much all we have to go off is fall camp practice observations, which are also largely limited). Plus, you know, he hasn’t attempted a pass since 2009.
I also would not have been upset if O’Brien was this weekend’s starter. Wisconsin’s offense has undergone so much turmoil this season that I’m just hoping for some continuity. I think many Badgers fans would agree, especially considering how Joel Stave seemed to improve week by week. That MSU game was his best, by far, until he got hurt. Damn you, William Gholston.
3. The Badger defense, at least from a scoring perspective, has been playing very well since the Nebraska loss. To what do you attribute the improvement, and which Badger defenders should Hoosier fans fear this weekend?
Wisconsin’s defense has been sound, though that may be a credit more toward opponents’ poor offenses than anything. Since losing to Nebraska, Wisconsin has faced Illinois (12th-ranked scoring offense in the Big Ten), Purdue (seventh), Minnesota (ninth) and Michigan State (11th). I will say that the Badgers’ defense is growing healthier as the season wears on and many fans have been impressed by our linebackers. The whole recipe, though, hasn’t always been to put it together. If the Hoosiers’ up-tempo offense keeps the Badgers off-kilter and doesn’t allow them to get their eyes into the backfield before the snap (Bielema has mentioned that specifically several times over the past two weeks), Indiana fans might be justifiable in expecting a big point total.
4. Finally, a basketball question. Even though have lost your starting point guard for the season and didn't look all that invincible on paper before, it's essentially a foregone conclusion that the Badgers will finish in the top 4 in the Big Ten. How is Bo going to pull it off this year?
Having just returned from a 96-44 win in a tune-up exhibition, my optimism may be running a tad high. But in our B5Q season predictions, I tabbed Wisconsin to finish third in the Big Ten. One of our other contributors might have also put them that high, but as you’ll see, the consensus has them finishing outside that top 4. Personally, even without Josh Gasser, I’ll be shocked if the Badgers finish that low. This team is talented and young, and I believe there could be a valuable chemistry brewing among it. I’m no sap for those things, either. If Bo does indeed pull it off again, I’ll say the formula won’t be much different. The defense will be stout -- the most Bo Ryan Badgers adjective there is -- and the scoring will be balanced, perhaps even more so than usual. Given their "athleticism," for lack of a better word, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the offense is slightly more up-tempo this season.
Thanks, Mike! I would say good luck Saturday, but I wouldn't mean it.