Wisconsin Badgers vs. Indiana Hoosiers Complete Game Preview
Winners of four in a row, the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers will look to keep their slim Big Ten title hopes alive when they host the improved Indiana Hoosiers in this Week 12 Leaders Division clash.
Following their dismissal of BYU in a nonconference matchup on Nov. 9, the Badgers (7-2, 4-1) moved up two spots in the BCS standings to grow closer to a potential BCS bowl. With three games remaining in which Wisconsin will undoubtedly be favored, it has a great chance to close the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
The Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3) are also coming off a victory as they were able to shake a three-game losing streak and defeat Illinois, 52-35. A bowl berth remains a possibility, although Indiana still must travel to Wisconsin and Ohio State with three games to play.
Indiana has had a rough go of it against the Badgers as of late, falling to Wisconsin, 62-14 last season. The Hoosiers haven't defeated the Badgers since 2002, but this season, they feature one of the best offenses in college football.
Can Indiana do the unthinkable and escape Madison with a win? Find out the keys to victory and players to watch for each team in this complete game preview.
Day, Time: Saturday at 11 a.m. CT
Place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
Spread: Wisconsin (-21), via Odds Shark
Wisconsin's Keys to Victory
Don't get sucked in on read-option
You would think defending the read-option wouldn't be an issue for the Badgers, a team that has seen plenty of read-option in 2013 alone. But Indiana can put up points with the best of them—it is No. 10 in scoring offense and even managed to put up 28 points against Michigan State, the nation's top defense.
However, Indiana's No. 1 running back, Tevin Coleman, is doubtful to play with an ankle injury. He is the reigning B1G Offensive Player of the Week, but now the running load will fall on the shoulders of Stephen Houston. He isn't bad in his own right, but the Hoosiers will miss Coleman's explosiveness, and that benefits the Badgers.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen will have his defense ready for Indiana's prolific offense, but it will be on the secondary as well as the containing linebackers to hold their ground and make the right reads so they don't get caught out of position.
Just pound it
For as impressive as Indiana's offense has been this season, its defense has been abysmal. Few teams allow more yards through the air than the Hoosiers, but their run defense is almost equally as putrid.
Over the past few seasons, the Badgers have simply had to hand it off to either Montee Ball, James White or Melvin Gordon to move the football effectively against Indiana. It probably won't be necessary to throw it all that often, although the Hoosiers will likely make a concerted effort to stack the box.
When Wisconsin is faced with a rare sure-passing situation, it shouldn't present it with too much of a challenge considering Indiana's issues in the secondary. Still, running the football, as usual, will be the Badgers' best course of action.
Indiana's Keys to Victory
Attack the secondary
Indiana runs the football pretty well—it averages just under 200 yards per game on the ground—but with the likelihood that Tevin Coleman will be unable to suit up combined with Wisconsin's top 10 run defense, the Hoosiers' best plan of attack will be throwing the football, and throwing it often.
One player that isn't injured is wide receiver Cody Latimer, who is statistically one of the top receivers in the Big Ten. Same goes for Nate Sudfeld, who leads all B1G quarterbacks in touchdown passes.
The Badgers have had several lapses in the secondary this season. They rotate a number of safeties in and out of the game and lack experience in the defensive backfield, and considering how well Indiana has moved the football through the air in 2013, it would be in its best interest to attack that area of the defense.
Keep Wisconsin offense off the field
Let's face it—the Hoosiers are going to have a lot of trouble slowing down the Wisconsin offense. It's been a problem in the past, and nothing points toward the Indiana defense having improved at all from a year ago. In fact, it may even be worse.
That's not good news considering how the Badgers put up over 60 points on Indiana last season, and that game took place in Bloomington.
However, the Hoosiers offense has vastly improved and has shown it can move the football against any defense. If they can slow down the pace on offense and sustain drives, that will limit the amount of time Wisconsin possesses the football and give Indiana a better chance at outscoring the Badgers.
Players to Watch on Wisconsin
It's probably time we give James White his due.
White isn't as flashy or as explosive as his teammate and fellow running back, Melvin Gordon. He doesn't have as many yards as Gordon or receive as much recognition as the sophomore tailback either. But over the past two weeks, White has led the Badgers in rushing, racking up 279 rushing yards.
The senior has contributed positively all four years, and with Gordon having back-to-back "off" weeks, White stepped up to help Wisconsin pull away from Iowa and lead the way against BYU.
It isn't just White's running ability either. He splits out wide, is a viable receiver and is also excellent in pass protection. White is a do-it-all back, and there's no reason he shouldn't crack the century mark and then some against the Hoosiers.
An injury prevented Tanner McEvoy from winning the quarterback job before the start of the season. So the 6'6" junior college recruit gave wide receiver a shot, but the injury still bothered the sophomore.
McEvoy was still determined to find a way to contribute, so he went from being the leader of the offense to the center field of the defense, making the switch to safety.
It wasn't until Game 4 against Purdue when we saw McEvoy for the first time on defense, but his playing time increased against Ohio State the following week, and then he even earned a start alongside Dezmen Southward.
On Nov. 9 against BYU, McEvoy notched his first career interception on an errant pass by Taysom Hill. He hasn't shied away from contact—he's embraced it—and McEvoy has become a trusted force in Wisconsin's secondary.
Players to Watch on Indiana
When a team has one of the best passing attacks in the nation, that means it must feature a playmaker split out wide. Cody Latimer fits that bill, as he is not only the No. 1 receiver for Indiana, but one of the top wide outs in the conference.
At 6'3", Latimer will be a mismatch for Wisconsin's smaller and inexperienced corners. Last Saturday against Illinois, the junior receiver had a breakout performance, catching 11 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns to give him his fourth game with at least 130 yards receiving this season.
The Badgers struggled with BYU's Cody Hoffman, another tall receiver, allowing him to surpass the century mark in receiving yards. Indiana has much more success than the Cougars throwing the football, so look for No. 3 in white to have yet another memorable day.
Whether or not Indiana cornerback Tim Bennett is able to give it a go on Saturday could make a huge difference in how this game shakes out. Bennett took a blow to the head against the Fighting Illini last Saturday, but he is listed as probable for this week's game against the Badgers.
Bennett is the Hoosiers' best cover corner, as he has broken up a team-high 19 passes. No other player on Indiana's defense has more than six. The junior corner will likely be slated with the task of covering Jared Abbrederis, one of the best receivers in the Big Ten.
It's no secret that Indiana's secondary has had its issues this season—it allows over 300 yards per game through the air. But if you take Bennett off the field, that pass defense becomes exceedingly worse, and the Hoosier defense will need all the help it can get against Wisconsin.
What They Are Saying
At his weekly press conference via Scout.com, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen paid respect to the success Indiana has had on offense this season:
Indiana is a very potent offense that's proven itself week in and week out. Score a bunch of points and rack up a bunch of yardage, and they have a lot of skill. Both quarterbacks do a nice job of running the offense. On the film that I've seen so far, they both come in, and the offense doesn't seem to take a big step backwards.
Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson on the Badgers and what it will take to have more success against Wisconsin than in recent years, per the Hoosiers' official website:
We've got an opportunity against a great team. You've got to play well in all phases. You're not going to go up and down the field on this team's defense. They played against some very, very good offenses, and they played and shoved them in a box. So you're not going to go up and match the score, but you've got to get defensive stops. This is a team that has an overwhelming running game, and they can throw it to a receiver that can get open as good as anyone.
Gary Andersen says he won't get on a soap box for Wisconsin's BCS chances. "Not my style, not my deal."— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) November 12, 2013
The Hoosiers have had major issues on defense, especially defending the pass. The play-action pass, one of Wisconsin's staples on offense, could give Indiana fits.
If you get aggressive and start loading the box, you get guys one on one," Wilson said. "Abbrederis is just about as good as anybody at getting open, and he's worked some of the best players in this conference in the league one on one."
The Hoosiers are getting better. They have figured it out on the offensive side of the ball and can put up a ton of points. But the glaring holes remain on defense, and that doesn't bode well going up against a team like the Badgers.
Wisconsin has had Indiana's number over the past decade, and in recent years, these matchups haven't even been close. If the Hoosiers want to get into a shootout with the Badgers, it simply isn't going to work.
Wisconsin can overpower just about anybody in the trenches, and all Joel Stave will have to do is turn around and hand it off to Melvin Gordon or James White. Every now and then, mixing in the play-action will keep the Indiana defense scrambling, and the Hoosiers simply won't be able to keep up, especially without starting tailback Tevin Coleman.
Indiana may put up its fair share of points on Saturday, but we all know how this story ends. The Badgers will light up the scoreboard, take care of business at Camp Randall Stadium and win their fifth straight game in a route of the Hoosiers.
Prediction: Wisconsin 63, Indiana 31