Written By Sammy Jacobs (@sammyj108)
The Wisconsin Badgers offense is pretty straightforward, hand the ball off to James White and Melvin Gordon and sprinkle in a few play action passes. That does not mean it is easy to stop. Wisconsin has put up some gaudy numbers against the Hoosiers the last three years (83,55, and 63). Could we see a repeat of the defensive performance against Navy? Maybe, probably, but Indiana does not have to be perfect on defense to win this game. They just have to be not terrible. Let’s get down to the three keys for the Hoosier defense for the Hoosiers to pull off the upset on Saturday.
1. Limit the Big Play on First Down- I am not talking about the 80-yard plays that go for touchdowns, what the Hoosiers need to do is get the Badgers off schedule. James White (6.3 YPC) and Melvin Gordon (8.1 YPC) can make it easy for the Wisconsin offense to maintain drives when they set the Badgers up with very manageable second and third downs. If the Hoosiers can make a few tackles for short gains or even get a few negative plays, the Badgers will most likely look to throw the ball. Joel Stave has been solid this year (1,826 yds, 16 TDs, and a 64.2% completion percentage), but he has only thrown the ball 229 times and has 8 interceptions, so he is mistake prone. Let’s put that in perspective, Nate Sudfeld has thrown the ball 258 times while splitting time with Tre Roberson. Even if the Hoosiers can get the Badgers into third and longs, they still have to make plays. Illinois seemed to pick up every type of third down the Hoosiers put them in.
2. Play the Young Guys- This may happen more because of the injuries to the Hoosier defense, but Indiana should let the talented freshman get significant playing time. Last week Clyde Newton, who played well with 11 tackles against Illinois, joined fellow freshman TJ Simmons (60 total tackles this season) as a starting linebacker and Darius Latham had a major impact on the game pressuring the quarterback. Marcus Oliver, 27 tackles, has also played well in a back up role. David Kenney, seven tackles, probably won’t see much action due to his suspension for the first half due to a marshmallow like targeting call, but what is the worst that can happen by playing freshman? Having several freshmen that can play will give the Hoosiers a little more depth to play with and some much needed energy. While they may miss a coverage or two, these kids have stood out as capable and the best way to improve is to let them play on the road in the conference. Indiana probably will not burn the red shirts on Chase Dutra or Rashard Fant, who missed most of the season with an injury, in the secondary.
3. Play Like There is Nothing to Lose- The Hoosiers need to play with a reckless abandon, with the pedal to the metal on defense. The Hoosier defense needs to be aggressive to win games against the big boys. Go for the interception, run through a receiver or two, and get multiple guys to the ball carrier so someone can rip it out. Indiana can not get scared off because they let up some big plays, and trust me they will probably let up a few on Saturday. Just move on and play the next play and maybe that’ll be better.
Nobody expects anything from this defense against a very good Wisconsin offense, but if the Hoosiers can get a stop or two early and give their offense the opportunity to jump out to a big lead, they can start playing more aggressively and make Wisconsin one dimensional.