Indiana knows what to expect Saturday. No. 4 Wisconsin will play the heavy as it tries to keep its perfect season intact.
So, the Hoosiers must find some solid counterpunches to avoid getting knocked around, knocked down and knocked out.
“They have a stable of running backs,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “They keep rotating them in and pound you, pound you, pound you, pound you and try to beat you into submission in the course of a game.”
Fortunately for the Hoosiers (3-5, 0-5 Big Ten), this is not the octagon. But it is an all-too-familiar scenario against a big, bruising team that relies on smashmouth football.
So far, Indiana has hung tough in most of its tests.
The Hoosiers went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Ohio State for almost three full quarters in the season opener and then limited Virginia to 55 yards on the ground. No. 18 Michigan State rushed for only 89 yards, and Heisman Trophy contender Saquon Barkley had 56 yards rushing for No. 4 Penn State.
The problem is, Indiana also has a propensity for wearing down.
It happened late against the Buckeyes and against No. 17 Michigan, which ran for more than 250 yards in an overtime win. Last week, Maryland, which possesses neither the size nor the determination to run like Wisconsin, ran for 174 yards.
The Badgers (8-0, 5-0, No. 9 CFP) head into the weekend No. 16 in the nation in rushing offense at 245.8 yards per game. Indiana, which ranks 30th in total defense, is No. 62 against the run (162-yard average).
“They’ve got a real sound defense,” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “I like what they play. They also do a really good job of having some real good changeups and pressures off of it. That gives them a real easy flow and a good mix.”
Still, this might not be the same Badgers team many are accustomed to seeing.
Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, the Big Ten’s leading rusher at 148.5 yards per game, is listed as questionable with an injured left leg. If his workload is reduced or he can’t play, the Badgers are likely to look to former starter Bradrick Shaw and redshirt freshman Garrett Groshek to fill in.
But the Hoosiers understand it doesn’t matter who plays. To end their five-game conference losing streak, they can’t just take punches. They must hit back.
“Pretty good combination,” Allen said, referring to the Badgers’ ball-control offense and suffocating defense.
Here are some other things to watch for Saturday:
THE SCOREBOARD: Wisconsin is one of five remaining unbeaten teams, is tied with Georgia for the second-longest winning streak (nine) in the Football Bowl Subdivision and can clinch the Big Ten West Division title with two more wins.
None of that has done much to impress the playoff selection committee. So what can the Badgers do to help themselves?
Keep winning — and hope to get some help.
THE SPECIALISTS: Indiana’s special teams units have played well most of the season. Last week, they took a step backward.
The Hoosiers allowed a blocked punt (which was returned for a touchdown) and a blocked extra point, gave up a long kickoff return, had multiple kickoffs go out of bounds and kicked a short punt. They even lost the No. 3 punt returner in the nation, J-Shun Harris II (19 yards per return), to a season-ending torn ACL.
Allen expects a better performance this weekend.
“We’re making some changes there with some personnel and a couple of adjustments to scheme, and we’re going to get special teams right,” he said.
THE CLEANERS: Wisconsin’s defense is even more stout than Indiana’s unit. The Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in scoring defense and are in the top two in the Big Ten in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense.
But their best quality may be simply overcoming turnovers. Following the 14 giveaways by the team this season, Wisconsin has allowed only five scores — two touchdowns and three field goals.
HALL OF FAMERS: Indiana will induct its newest class of Hall of Famers this weekend, and two are former football players. Receiver Ernest Jones and linebacker Ken Kaczmarek are among the group that will be honored at halftime.
The other inductees are Keith Smart (men’s basketball), who is best known for making the winning shot in the 1987 NCAA championship game, Danielle Carruthers (women’s track & field), Isabella Hutchison (women’s administrator) and Don Padgett II (men’s golf).