One dropped ball.
That was all that stood in the way of Indiana upsetting Iowa last Saturday. On fourth-and-10, Hoosiers receiver Damarlo Belcher dropped what would have been a go-ahead touchdown with 28 seconds left in the game. Instead of an amazing win, Indiana fell 18-13 to Iowa, keeping the Hawkeyes’ conference title hopes alive.
This weekend, Indiana will try again to crush some rosy dreams, when it comes to Camp Randall to take on the No. 7 Wisconsin.
“I’m not surprised by [the Iowa game], I think that they come out and play hard, and if you’re not ready to come out and match that, you’re in for a long game,” senior left guard John Moffitt said.
The Hoosiers seem to have Belcher’s back, voting him a captain for the game. The Badgers, though, are hoping to avoid seeing much of his back, as IU quarterback Ben Chappell will try to test UW’s secondary with his two big receivers.
Belcher is 6-foot-5 and 215 lbs, while Chappell’s other favorite target, Tandon Doss, is 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs. IU’s quarterback and receivers are the Hoosiers’ best chance to beat UW for the first time since 2002. Wisconsin had some trouble containing Iowa’s duo of Marvin McNutt and Derrelle Johnson-Koulianos back in Iowa City, which could pose a challenge for the Badgers’ cornerbacks.
However, UW’s secondary responded in a big way last week at Purdue after a poor first half. Cornerback Antonio Fenelus recovered a fumble, led the team in tackles with nine and returned an interception for a touchdown.
All said, Wisconsin forced four turnovers against Purdue, a season high. According to head coach Bret Bielema, the Badgers struggled to make plays on defense in last year’s matchup with the Hoosiers, a 31-28 win in Bloomington.
“The thing that jumped when I saw the film, I guess it was Sunday night when I first watched last year’s again, was just the plays that were there that we weren’t able to capitalize, especially on defense,” Bielema said.
That wasn’t a problem last week, as UW had three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Sophomore running back Montee ball was the beneficiary of one of those turnovers, running in a big touchdown after a Mike Taylor interception. Ball had dropped to third in the depth chart, but has come in and produced big for Wisconsin after injuries to James White and John Clay.
Ball scored the winning touchdown against Iowa, and had 127 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. Bielema said White is expected to play after a knee sprain suffered in Iowa City, while Clay may or may not play after a small knee sprain suffered last week.
Ball’s just happy to be contributing after dropping out of the backfield rotation.
“It’s, I don’t want to say a good feeling, but I’m preparing a lot harder than I did last week and the week before that, because I could be the feature back,” he said.
Clay and White aren’t the only banged-up Badgers, though. Center Pete Konz went down with an ankle injury last Saturday and will be replaced by Bill Nagy. However, Bielema said tight end Lance Kendricks is ready to play, and banged-up defensive lineman Jordon Kohout is good to go.
The defense will need to be solid to shut down Chappell, who leads the Big Ten with 296.3 passing yards per game. The senior is already ahead of his pace last year, when he finished with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions – he’s thrown 18 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions through nine games.
“I should say pressure is a part of it, being able to put him out of rhythm, not give him lanes to throw through, make the decisions come faster than later,” Bielema said of stopping Chappell.
The key to this week, Ball said, is to avoid a slow start like the Badgers had in West Lafayette. UW entered halftime down 10-6 before coming out and outscoring PU 28-3 in the second half.
But despite the rough play during the first 30 minutes of the game, the Badgers were within a touchdown due to taking care of the ball. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten with just seven turnovers and has committed the fewest penalties in the FBS.
With a veteran team that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot, the Badgers weren’t worried about coming back against the Boilermakers. The same can hold true for the rest of the season.
“Not beating yourself is a key to our game because we’re not a flashy team that can make a big mistake and then rip one down the field 60 yards and be fine,” Moffitt said. “We have steady production, I think is how we play football – and it’s effective when you don’t fumble, turn the ball over, get sacked, things like that.”