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Fifth Quarter Consensus: Badgers Squeak By Indiana

James White may take some direct snaps out of the barge formation against Indiana.
James White may take some direct snaps out of the barge formation against Indiana.
Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
The Predictions:
  • Andy Johnson (+157): Indiana 21, Wisconsin 12
  • Phil Mitten (+169): Wisconsin 30, Indiana 27
  • Mike Fiammetta (+171): Wisconsin 27, Indiana 24
  • Jake Harris (+181): Wisconsin 27, Indiana 23
  • Andrew Rosin (+213): Wisconsin 27, Indiana 21
  • Louis Bien: Wisconsin 34, Indiana 31
  • John Daly: Wisconsin 24, Indiana 23
  • Jack Moore: Wisconsin 24, Indiana 17
  • Nick Korger: Wisconsin 38, Indiana 20
The Reasoning

This wasn't the way Wisconsin's season was supposed to go. The Badgers will play their third different starting quarterback this year in Saturday's huge divisional game at Indiana when Curt Phillips, a fifth-year senior who has torn the same ACL three times during his tenure at UW, begins the game under center.

There are rumors that junior transfer Danny O'Brien, under whose leadership the offense has failed pretty spectacularly in three separate stints, might take some snaps as well. The old saying, "if you have two quarterbacks, then you really have none," seems to apply.

The broken collarbone starter Joel Stave suffered two weeks ago against Michigan State caused the current predicament. Stave is done for the year and Badger fans are hoping either for O'Brien to redeem himself or for Phillips to write an amazing story of perseverance and determination paying off.

Phillips never had much of an arm and there is no doubt his speed has been eroded by the three knee surgeries. The Badgers will rely on their running game more than ever against a defense that ranks dead last in the Big Ten in stopping the run, giving up 208.4 yards per game on the ground. Montee Ball and James White should be able to get back on track after a rough outing against the Spartans. The return of left tackle Rick Wagner from injury should help the offensive line gel.

The interior of the line will need to be stout against Indiana's senior defensive tackles, Adam Replogle and Larry Black. The Hoosiers are tied for third in the conference with 22 sacks on the year, which makes Wisconsin's running game all the more crucial. Don't be surprised to see the Badgers line up in the barge formation at multiple points throughout Saturday's game. That set led to a White touchdown against MSU that was called back because of a holding penalty on tight end Sam Arneson.

Indiana has held each of its last two opponents to 21 points or fewer, but gave up at least 31 points in each contest of a five-game losing streak that was snapped against Illinois. In Phillips, head coach Bret Bielema is looking for a quarterback who will avoid the types of negative plays (i.e., sacks and turnovers) that became a problem under O'Brien.

Offensively, Indiana is potent, scoring 33.1 points per game. The Hoosiers go no-huddle and it helps that the Badgers had two full weeks to prepare for the tempo. Starting quarterback Tre Roberson broke his leg during the second game of the season, but Indiana has found a way to win its last two Big Ten games with sophomore Cameron Coffman running the show. Coffman has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards and 10 touchdowns to go with four interceptions.

Wisconsin's defense has been stingy everywhere except the red zone, where it ranks last in the Big Ten. Part of the problem is that the Badgers have only forced nine turnovers on the season, by far the least in the conference. The Badgers are, however, the best in the league at getting off the field on third down. With a woefully inexperienced quarterback and a struggling offensive line, "bend but don't break" might not be good enough for the defense Saturday.

Kicker Kyle French has steadily improved for UW and made two clutch kicks against Michigan State. Junior Mitch Ewald is solid for the Hoosiers and has made 12 of his 16 field-goal attempts in 2012. The Badgers' kickoff coverage will need to be at its best against IU return man Tevin Coleman, who averages 24.4 yards per run-back.

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, the winner of this game will have the inside track to representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Wisconsin can clinch an appearance in the game with a win, while Indiana can assure itself of the tiebreaker with a victory. The high stakes may hurt the Hoosiers, though, who are not used to playing big games in Bloomington. Meanwhile, the Badgers are back-to-back conference champions and know how to rise to the occasion.

While Wisconsin has never been great on the road under Bielema, just two of Indiana's four wins this season came at Memorial Stadium. If the Badgers lose, it will be because of poor play, not because of any psychological edge of the Hoosiers.

Who has the edge?

Offense: Indiana

Defense: Wisconsin

Special Teams: Push

Coaching: Wisconsin

Intangibles: Push