Wisconsin Badgers Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Indiana
The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 59-7 last season. The year before that? 83-20.
That's a lot of points.
But the last time Wisconsin traveled to Bloomington, it only squeaked out a three-point victory. That type of contest is probably closer to what we should expect this Saturday when the Badgers return to Indiana's home stomping grounds for the first time since 2009.
Wisconsin isn't the same team it was over the past two seasons, and Indiana has shown improvement, standing only a game behind the Badgers in the Leaders Division. In other words, this game is more important than many realize.
Here are the five keys to the game if the Badgers want to clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Run, Run, Run
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When the Badgers running game goes, so does it's offense, and pounding the rock against the 16th-worst run defense in the FBS is what Wisconsin will be doing all game long.
It's no secret—the Indiana defense will know what's coming, but whether it can stop Montee Ball, James White and at times, Curt Phillips is one of the most important factors in Saturday's game.
Wisconsin will receive a boost with Rick Wagner making a return to left tackle, arguably the Badgers' best offensive lineman. Wagner was knocked out of the game against Purdue with a sprained medial collateral ligament.
No one is sure what Phillips will bring to the table, so it's important for the Badgers to establish the run, and it should be a refreshing change of pace going up against Indiana after facing Michigan State's stout rushing defense.
Limit Cameron Coffman
Jerry Schultheiss-US PRESSWIRE
Indiana struggles to run the ball—it ranks No. 79 in the country—but the Hoosiers thrive on throwing out of the spread offense, and the man who leads that charge is quarterback Cameron Coffman.
The Hoosiers throw for 300 yards a game, and despite entering the season as a backup, Coffman has thrown for just under 1,700 yards this season to go along with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The quarterback position is an ever-revolving door at Indiana, but with Coffman leading the Hoosiers to a victory last week against Iowa, expect him to get the start versus the Badgers. He is coming off a 21-of-33 performance that resulted in 315 yards and three touchdowns.
Wisconsin features an above-average pass defense and comes into the game No. 33 in the nation, giving up 203.2 yards per game through the air. A lot of that success comes down to pressuring Coffman, and the Badgers—led by Chris Borland (4.5 sacks) and David Gilbert (four sacks)—have had success getting to the quarterback, totaling 20 sacks on the season.
It will be important for the Badgers' experienced secondary to step up and limit Coffman's impact to avoid a shootout from emerging.
Don't Put Curt Phillips in a Position to Fail
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
As mentioned before, it's hard to know what exactly the Badgers will be getting from Curt Phillips, who is getting the nod at quarterback against Indiana (via Jeff Potrykus of jsonline.com).
After multiple surgeries on his ACL, is his mobility going to be limited? Does Phillips have the ability to throw the ball downfield effectively?
Wisconsin is hoping it won't have to find out the answers to those questions anytime soon, and if the Badgers find themselves in a tight ball game late, they could be putting Phillips in a position to fail.
That's why Wisconsin needs to have success running the ball, thus resulting in an early lead the Badgers never relinquish.
Otherwise, the pressure falls on Phillips' shoulders in Wisconsin's biggest game of the season, and considering the uncertainty surrounding Phillips, that isn't the ideal situation for the Badgers.
Remain Strong Against the Run
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
While the Badgers have held their own against the pass, they are even better against the run.
Wisconsin is 17th in the FBS in shutting down the opponents' rushing attack. With the Hoosiers in the middle of the pack when it comes to running the football, the Badgers should have no problem stopping Indiana on the ground, especially with the immobile Coffman under center.
That will allow the Badgers to commit more men to shutting down Indiana's aerial assault. Forcing the Hoosiers into more passing situations could mean playing with fire, but more men in pass coverage should result in a better chance of holding Coffman and the Big Ten's third-leading receiver Cody Latimer in check.
The Badgers' run defense is led by linebacker Mike Taylor, who has totaled 92 tackles on the season. The success Wisconsin has at stopping the run hinges on winning the battle in the trenches and Taylor having a field day in the Hoosiers' backfield.
Should Wisconsin struggle to shut down the run, it leaves the secondary vulnerable and makes Indiana two-dimensional. That would spell trouble for Wisconsin's chances of pulling out the win.
Don't Underestimate the Hoosiers
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Don't let Wisconsin's past success and Indiana's current record fool you—the Hoosiers are a much-improved football team this season, and the Badgers will have their hands full on Saturday.
If Wisconsin comes in overconfident and unprepared, which would be unacceptable knowing the circumstances and coming off a bye week, it leaves the door open for Indiana to steal a win. Despite the high stakes involved with this game, the Hoosiers still come in with a "nobody believes in us" attitude and virtually no pressure.
Inversely, everyone expects the Badgers to come out on top, and Bret Bielema needs to have his team focused on the task at hand. Between Cameron Coffman and Cody Latimer, Wisconsin needs to be on guard on defense and persistent running the ball on offense.
A victory for either team—Wisconsin and likely Indiana—gets it into the Big Ten Championship Game.
It's kind of a big deal.