What would you take, last year's two-Hail-Marys-short-of-the-national-championship brilliance, or this year's week-by-week
Actually, don't answer that.
That question does come to mind, though, because the Indiana game is almost here, and it's a huge one. Yes, that's right. Wisconsin has yet another Huge Game, and we haven't even hit mid-November yet. How many does that make it, four? I'm counting at Nebraska, vs. Purdue, vs. Michigan State and now this one.
Wisconsin's persistent problems on offense have left a good-but-not-great defense in such a ridiculous amount of holes, it's now so difficult to confidently predict this team. Fortunately, we have John M from SB Nation's fine Indiana blog, The Crimson Quarry, to reveal what we might be able to expect from the Hoosiers this weekend. After all, Bret Bielema has twice over the past two weeks compared Indiana's offense to Oregon's. While John M says that might be somewhat legitimate, the last thing Badgers fans are going to buy is that kind of talk when the Ducks are averaging 54.3 points per game.
Apparently, Hoosiers fans are "cautiously optimistic" about Saturday's game, despite the Badgers' overwhelming dominance in this series. Wisconsin is 37-18-2 all-time against Indiana and 16-9-1 in Bloomington. But like Wisconsin, Indiana has also dealt with some serious tinkering at the quarterback spot. So, John M, we'll say Badgers fans are cautiously optimistic as well, and leave it at that.
If you'd like to read more of my take on this matchup from Wisconsin's side, The Crimson Quarry has already posted their Q&A.
|YEAR (since Bielema took over)||RESULT||LOCATION|
1. B5Q: To start, how are Indiana fans feeling about the season thus far? What's gone right or wrong, and how do you expect it all to translate into Saturday's game?
John M: The five game losing streak was tough to take, but I think most IU fans are now cautiously optimistic about the condition of the program. IU has been competitive every week so far, which is an improvement on last season, but finally coming through with a couple of wins has everyone in good spirits. On the downside, I find myself dwelling on IU's non-conference losses to Ball State and Navy, both of which IU gave away in the fourth quarter. If IU had held on to those games then the Hoosiers would be 6-3 and the worst case scenario for the Big Ten wouldn't involve such a nightmare. Nevertheless, every IU home game has come down to the final minutes, so I am expecting a good one on Saturday.
2. B5Q: All of a sudden, Indiana's offense is a hot topic. The Hoosiers rank third in the Big Ten with 33.1 points per game, and Bret Bielema has been comparing the tempo of their offense to that of Oregon for the past two weeks. How does this offense work? Are those Oregon comparisons somehow legitimate?
John M: IU's offense isn't nearly as effective as Oregon's, and the young Hoosiers remain a bit mistaken prone, but there are some stylistic similarities. IU runs almost exclusively no-huddle and often snaps the ball as soon as it is set. IU runs a variety of formations and uses a ton of personnel. Again, IU is not as effective as Oregon, but there are some legitimate comparisons. Another comparison is to Mike Leach's offenses. IU offensive coordinator Seth Littrell is a Leach protege.
John M: They both have played pretty well, but there hasn't really been a set rotation. Coffman has started every game since Tre Roberson's injury, but Sudfeld has played anywhere from not at all (Navy, Michigan State) to most of the game (Illinois). Sudfeld probably has a stronger arm and a higher ceiling, but Coffman has a year of junior college experience. Both have been pretty competent, although neither has been so much better than the other that he has won the job.
4. B5Q: Defensively, it seems like the Hoosiers have struggled (10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense, 12th in total defense). What have been the biggest issues there?
John M: As bad as IU has been on defense, it really doesn't approach how bad IU was last season. The defense has played well in spots and has had games where they were decent on third down, and did a good job pressuring the QB against Illinois. They still are well below average, but improving and nothing like the tire fire of 2011. I don't think there is any magic to it. IU needs more experience and more talent on that side of the ball.
5. B5Q: Wisconsin has been remarkably difficult to predict this year. Given that and what you've seen from Indiana, what kind of game are you expecting on Saturday?
John M: As I said, IU has been competitive in every game this season, particularly at home, so I am expecting that again, although I won't be surprised if it is otherwise. For the most part, Wisconsin seems to have rallied from a really rough start, and there is, obviously, a pretty long history of UW blowout wins in this series.
6. B5Q: As quickly as you can, how do you breakdown the advantages between these teams on offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff and intangibles?
John M: I feel pretty good about IU's offense against anyone. While there have been some long scoring droughts in some of IU's losses, the Hoosiers have scored 24 or more points in every game. I am most interested to see IU's defense against the UW offense. As I mentioned above, the defense is bad but getting better, and if IU can make your iffy quarterbacks throw it a bit more than they would like, then I would feel good about IU's chances. On special teams, IU has a good kicker who is having a rough year, and a solid return game with Tevin Coleman and Shane Wynn. Finally, unquestionably Wisconsin has a proven coaching staff (albeit with a new OC with whom IU fans are familiar), but I am pretty happy with IU's staff and the improvement they have directed this year. I don't think IU is overmatched in that regard. In terms of intangibles, who knows? Wisconsin should be confident, but IU is in a position that looked impossible a few weeks ago.
7. B5Q: Lastly, what kind of atmosphere can we expect at Memorial Stadium? And do you have a prediction?
John M: I think it will be a good crowd. It's supposed to be sunny and in the 60s. In some respects, IU fans can be more literally "fair weather" than figuratively. Last week's crowd against Iowa was a disappointment (40K paid, probably no more than 25K in the house), but the game was storm-delayed and it was cold and wet. There is as much hype about this game from the Indianapolis media as I can recall for an IU football game. As for the game, I have a feeling the Badgers will pull things together with the division on the line. Wisconsin 31, Indiana 20.