Who else? UW looks to stop Randle El

· Oct 4, 2001 Tweet

Wisconsin is hoping nostalgia is on their side on Saturday.

On Oct. 3, 1998, the Wisconsin football team opened up Big Ten play in a season that would eventually lead to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl championship. The Badgers won the game that day in Bloomington, Ind., by a score of 24-20.

However, the overwhelming feeling of UW’s defensive players that day was exhaustion. All afternoon, Badger defenders had to chase around Indiana freshman quarterback Antwaan Randle El, who was not well known around the nation at the time and who was playing for the Hoosiers, a team not well respected around the nation.

Flash forward to 2001. Randle El, now a senior, has become widely recognized as one of the most athletic players in the nation, garnering national attention and Heisman candidacy. The do-it-all threat has undoubtedly become one of the scariest players in the Big Ten.

Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, some things never change. While Randle El has garnered national respect as a player, Indiana has not mustered up any respect as a team, going a combined 11-25 overall (7-18 in Big Ten play) since the start of Randle El’s tenure in 1998.

Things have continued to go south for the Hoosiers this season, as they are off to an 0-3 start, with a 35-14 loss at North Carolina State, a 28-26 loss at home to Utah, and a 27-14 loss at home to Ohio State.

However, in the wake of a poor start, the Hoosiers still have a glimmer of hope for players other than Randle El. Senior Levron Williams has provided a solid complement to Randle El in the Hoosiers’ option offense by rushing for 197 yards and two touchdowns on the season, including a 116-yard effort against Utah.

Also, the Hoosiers had hoped that junior backup quarterback Tommy Jones would be able to play at times, allowing Randle El to line up more at wideout than ever before to exploit his athleticism.

Jones did throw for 163 yards and a touchdown against NC State, but Randle El’s effectiveness under center in the option has limited his receiving duties to just four catches for 30 yards.

While Indiana runs a largely option offense, Randle El does have a good arm and many times chooses to throw the ball. On the season, he has thrown for 345 yards and two touchdowns, with a 60.9 completion percentage.

In the absence of Randle El in the receiving corps, Williams has also served as the team’s leading receiver, with 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Glenn Johnson has added nine catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

However, Randle El continues to be the team leader, adding 176 yards and two touchdowns rushing and an 8.2-yard average returning punts.

Senior linebacker Justin Smith leads the team in tackling with 31 total tackles, but the Hoosier pass rush has struggled, recording just three sacks on the year.

The Badgers’ task to winning on Saturday, therefore, seems pretty clear: contain Randle El, who is the only player in NCAA Division I-A history to both throw for 6,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards. The only problem is how exactly to do that.

“We have to have 11 guys doing what they’re supposed to do all the time,” UW safety Joey Boese said. “If you’re supposed to stay on the backside, you have to do that, you can’t try to make a play running over. That’s not going to be your play. Everyone has to take care of their responsibilities, and if we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”

Linebacker Jeff Mack echoed Boese’s analysis.

“We have to pretty much just play responsible,” Mack added. “What I mean by that is play with good fundamentals, keep our feet. If you’ve got the quarterback, you’ve got the quarterback. If you’ve got the pitch, you’ve got the pitch. The main thing is stopping [Randle El], and then trying to stop everybody else.”

The Badgers managed to stop everyone last week against Western Kentucky’s option offense, allowing just 115 rushing yards on 53 attempts. That effort perhaps served as good preparation for chasing Randle El all over the field.

“I think (the game against Western Kentucky) helped us out tremendously,” Boese said. “I think a lot of similar things are going to carry over from last week to this week.”

However, as Boese made clear, Randle El will be doing things a lot faster, while Wisconsin was simply able to beat Western Kentucky on speed. Randle El poses more of a passing threat out of the pocket, which means the Badgers will need to tackle the way they did against Penn State and Western Kentucky, not like they did against Fresno State.

“Tackling is just timing and getting in the rhythm of the game,” added Boese, who led the team with nine solo tackles against Western Kentucky. “I think that as the season has gone on, a lot of our players have done that. I think that by the fourth, fifth week we should be adapted to the speed of the game.”

On offense, the Badgers need to employ a ball-control offense, using rushing and controlled passing to keep Randle El off the field. The Badgers rushed for a solid 193 yards against Western Kentucky, but only had a 43.5 percent completion rate, a number they could definitely improve on.

But as head coach Barry Alvarez said earlier in the week, the key to beating Indiana is to contain Randle El, and that is a task that’s left up to the defense.

“I think these last two weeks we’ve really come together as a whole unit on defense,” said Boese. “I think that we’re definitely getting the job done right now, but, like I’ve said, you’re only as good as your last week.”

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This article was published Oct 4, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Oct 4, 2001 at 12:00 am

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