It’s just Indiana. Or so you think.
Sure, the Wisconsin Football team (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) has bested the Hoosiers time and again on the gridiron in recent history – especially with a 59-7 win in Madison last year and an 83-20 decision in 2010. But this year, things are looking a bit different.
Not only is Indiana 4-5 (2-3 in conference play) and could easily be 8-1 with close losses to Ball Sate, Michigan State, Ohio State and Navy, but it’s also vying for a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday.
And the Badgers aren’t expecting to manhandle this team as they have in years past.
“Indiana is definitely doing some great things this year,” senior running back Montee Ball said. “We have to make sure we go in there with our minds right.”
Led by sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman – who is 158-for-249 on the season with 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions – IU runs a fast-paced spread offense known to score on big, downfield plays.
In order to eliminate those plays and slow down the Hoosiers’ offense, it is all about forcing three-and-outs and lining up on time, according to junior free safety Dezmen Southward.
“The coaches always preach the easiest way to stop a team like that is to get three-and-out because it completely stops their momentum and gives our offense a chance to pound them a little bit,” Southward said. “I think the important thing is that we line up and that we know what we’re about to do. You see a lot of plays happen on film where they hit huge home runs because guys aren’t lined up and guys aren’t getting the calls fast enough. So we’ve really been working on getting that in faster.”
With a bye week last weekend, Wisconsin has had plenty of time to prepare for Indiana and adjust to a new quarterback in Bloomington, Ind.
In their last outing, the Badgers faced off with burgeoning rival Michigan State in Madison, only to lose in overtime 16-13. But the loss was the second blow of the day as starting quarterback Joel Stave exited the game early with a broken left collarbone.
While Danny O’Brien initially filled in for Stave against the Spartans, after two weeks of preparation for Indiana, Curt Phillips will get the starting nod – something Bielema & Co. were attempting to keep under wraps leading up to the game.
“One of the reasons I had planned having it announced later in the week was just to take the pressure off,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “… Any time you sign with a school and you’re a quarterback, I think your dream is to be the starting quarterback and he unfortunately has battled through a lot. The key point there is he’s put himself back on top.”
Phillips – who is the Badgers’ third starting quarterback of the season – has only played in six games in his five-year career at UW. Over that time he completed seven of 12 passes for 65 yards and one interception. Throughout his career, he’s also torn his right ACL three times, but continued to fight back to win the chance to play. And now he has a game that could define the remainder of Wisconsin’s season.
No matter who grabbed the starting spot under center, the offensive line is still working on finding some consistency – something it’s been struggling with this season – to give its quarterback the necessary time to get the play off.
“For us, it’s just about keeping guys at the line and trying to provide as much comfort in that pocket for those guys so they don’t have to be moving or roaming when they’re going to throw the ball,” junior center Travis Frederick said.
With a win Saturday, the Badgers will make a return trip to Indianapolis and represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 1.
Despite what’s on the line, UW players are doing their best not to think about it.
“The best way to say it is, [we're] taking it one game at a time but at the same time, realizing what’s at stake,” junior defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. “We don’t want to turn around and hide in a corner about it. We realize what’s at stake, just as much as they do. But at the same time we realize that IU is just another game on our schedule. They’re just he next team in line.”
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