The 2001 Badger defense feels like they have seen everything from the opposing teams’ quarterback positions so far this season. In truth, after Saturday the Badgers will have faced three of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the college game. The Badgers faced the game’s best passing quarterbacks against Oregon’s Joey Harrington and Fresno State’s David Carr.
This weekend, however, the Indiana Hoosiers will bring with them to Camp Randall Antwaan Randle El, one of the nation’s premier running threats at quarterback.
Despite Indiana’s 0-3 start to the 2001 campaign, the Badger defense is preparing for what it considers one of the most dangerous offenses in the Big Ten. Clearly, at the heart of the Badgers preparations this week has been Randle El. The Badger defenders and coaches hold very high opinions of Randle El and his play-making abilities, and they feel like they are facing one of the best offensive players in the league.
“You watch tape and you see, I think he’s in the top three offensive players in the league, if not the best,” said Badger safety Joey Boese. “His ability to change direction and the speed he brings to the game is pretty tremendous.”
Making matters more difficult for the Badger defense is the versatility of Indiana’s star player. The Badgers expect Randle El to play quarterback for a majority of Saturday’s contest, but they won’t be surprised if Indiana lines up with Randle El at receiver at times during the game. The Badgers are prepared to face him at both positions; however, they feel he certainly presents the most difficulties for the defense while he plays at the quarterback position.
“He’s most dangerous under center,” Boese said. “If he’s at wide-out, they still need to have somebody else under center to get him the ball. He’s just a tremendous athlete wherever they put him, but we’re expecting to see him under center.”
Despite seeing significant time at receiver, Randle El leads the team in passing with 28 completions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He is also the team’s second leading rusher, behind Levron Williams.
Earlier this season, Indiana head coach Cam Cameron attempted to play Randle El at receiver for the majority of their snaps, but was forced to scrap that plan after several terrible outings. Indiana is now coming off what may have been their best game of the season, a 27-14 loss to a respectable Ohio State team. Randle El threw for 181 yards while running for another 70.
Randle El will likely need to increase at least one of those two categories drastically in order to get a win over Wisconsin. However, Badger coaches feel that Randle El has shown that he is an improved player from previous seasons and that he has, in particular, shown improvements in the passing game this year.
“I think he throws the ball better,” head coach Barry Alvarez said. “I don’t know if he could ever run the ball better. He’s like a jackrabbit. He’s a magician with the football. You have to control him. I think he knows the game better. I think he understands the game better. I think he knows where to go with the football better, and I think he’s stronger.”
Indiana may try to attack the Badgers’ secondary, who virtually took last week off as Western Kentucky attempted only two passes. However, Boese is confident that the Badgers’ pass defense will be up to the task.
“We worked on [pass defense] all week [for Western Kentucky], and we are continuing to work on it this week for Indiana,” Boese said. “They obviously bring a lot more of passing offense to the table than Western Kentucky did. I think we just have to be prepared for that, but the No. 1 thing is to stop Randle-El, and if we do that, I think we’ll be fine in the pass defense.”
Even though the Badgers are facing a dynamic player in Randle El, they are focused on containing Indiana as a team, and haven’t really changed their practices to prepare for Randle El in any special way.
“I really haven’t changed much,” Alvarez said. “I don’t know how, our practices and everything have been pretty much the same. We’ve gone back and looked at the last two years of film. [Indiana’s] offense is very similar. They always add a wrinkle or two.”
Because of Randle El’s ability to elude tackles and cut plays back, a keyword around the Badger defense this week has been containment. The Badgers are focused on staying at home and not letting Randle El get loose.
“He can go one way 100 percent speed and cut it back, then stop on a dime,” UW linebacker Jeff Mack said. “It’s very exciting playing him, but one thing is when you play him you have to be very sound in what you’re doing, and you know your responsibilities.”
There is no question that Indiana and Randle El bring a different sort of challenge to Camp Randall. The defense will need to step and shut down Indiana’s elusive quarterback in order to run the Badger winning streak to three games.