November 7, 2008

UW-Indiana breakdown

MADISON, Wis. - Not many could have imagined the Wisconsin football team would have a losing record heading to Indiana when the schedule was released. But, that is exactly where UW sits. With only three games left, the 4-5 Badgers are in desperate need of a win to garner bowl interest and even its record.

The following is a breakdown of Saturday's game:

When Wisconsin has the ball:

The Badgers have been the better team on paper this season a couple times, but still found a way to come up short. Against Indiana, they once again will be the better team on paper but that does not necessarily mean they will leave with a win. Getting John Clay and P.J. Hill into a rhythm again, like they had last week will be UW's best bet for victory.

On the season the Hoosiers have allowed 146.4 rushing yards per game and their defensive line has underperformed. Look for UW, like most games, to come out and establish some sort of consistency on the ground.

If the Badgers get the passing game going, Dustin Sherer could have open receivers all day long in his personal homecoming. Indiana's pass defense is anything but consistent, allowing nearly 250 yards per game.

Up front, UW had a full week of practice with the starting offensive line completely intact. After both Gabe Carimi[/d]b and [db]Kraig Urbik returned from their respective injuries the Badgers dominated the Spartans in run blocking. With the line completely healthy, Wisconsin could very well open huge running lanes for the backs.

Advantage: Wisconsin. Sherer has repeatedly said that he needs to play better since he took over as the starter and this is the week he puts it all together.

When Indiana has the ball:

Last season when these two teams met in Camp Randall, the Hoosiers went through three quarterbacks. This season, Kellen Lewis, who left that game with an injury, looks to be the guy the Badgers will see first.

In the seven games Lewis has played this season, he has compiled a 62 percent completion rate and has thrown for five touchdowns. In general, the Hoosiers average just over 200 yards through the air. Look for the Badgers to bring different blitzing packages to try to force Lewis into forcing some throws.

On the ground, Marcus Thigpen is one of the dynamic backs in the Big Ten that nobody hears about. On the year, he has four plays of over 75 yards and has scored six touchdowns to boot.

"Well what they do is try to get him on the perimeters," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "He does a good job and he's got great speed as we know. The big plays that he's hit this year is he's basically been able to either start in and bounce out or get the ball on the perimeter from the get go."

Passing wise, James Hardy, the Hoosiers big play threat of past season, has moved on to the NFL. With his departure, Indiana's Andrew Means has taken over the role as the team's leading receiver. On the season, he averages 13 yards per catch, but has yet to find the end zone.

Ray Fisher, IU's second leading receiver has 315 receiving yards on the year and a team-high four receiving touchdowns.

Advantage: Wisconsin. After UW completely shut down Javon Ringer a week ago, the Badgers defense has to have confidence going against Thigpen. If they are able to shut him down, the Hoosier offense will be in trouble because they do not have enough playmakers to make up for him.

Special teams:

UW kicker Philip Welch missed a field goal last week for the first time in his last 11 attempts. Still, the redshirt freshman has been a welcome surprise in the Badgers special teams unit. If the Badger drive stalls inside the opponent's 30 yard line, Welch has been an almost automatic three points for UW.

After several struggles earlier in the season, punter Brad Nortman has seemingly found his groove again. Last week, his average was down, but that was because he was punting into a short field. However, he did a great job and pinned MSU deep in its own territory multiple times.

For Indiana, place kicker Austin Starr has not been the poster child of consistency. On the season, he has connected on only 50 percent of his attempts with a long of 46. Meanwhile, Hoosier punter Chris Hagerup, a Wisconsin native, has averaged 43.1 yards per punt.

Advantage: Wisconsin.

Prediction: Wisconsin wins 31-17. Sherer will throw for two touchdowns, one to Nick Toon and the other to Garrett Graham. Hill and Clay will also find the end zone and the Badger defense will constrict the IU offense as they shut down Thigpen.

Lea's record: 5-4

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