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Wisconsin vs. Indiana: What to know about the Hoosiers

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Crimson Quarry help us preview an injury-riddled Hoosiers squad.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers take their undefeated record to Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday as they will in all likelihood face a stiff challenge from Tom Allen’s Indiana Hoosiers.

The Badgers are coming off an underwhelming 24–10 win in Champaign, Ill., against a young Illinois squad.

The Hoosiers, on the other hand, come off a tough 42–39 loss on the road to Maryland. Though Indiana has not won a conference game yet and sits at 3–5, IU has played tight with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, and will likely present challenges.

Indiana’s defense has only allowed 342.1 yards of offense per game and only just a shade over 180 through the air. The Hoosiers have only allowed first downs on 30.5 percent of opponents’ third-down attempts, third in the conference and 18th in the nation.

Seniors Chris Covington and Tegray Scales are tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (eight), and Scales leads the team in tackles (64) and sacks (four).

“Linebackers [No.] 4 and [No.] 8, Covington and Scales, those guys can fly,” Wisconsin running back Garrett Groshek said on Tuesday.

Offensively, Simmie Cobbs, Jr., leads the conference in receptions (54) and Indiana is fifth in the Big Ten in passing offense (258 yards per contest).

Not unlike Wisconsin, Indiana has also been hit with the injury bug at some key positions.

To help us break down the Hoosiers’ season so far, Crimson Quarry’s Kyle Swick joined us for a Q&A.

Indiana under Tom Allen has appeared to be a tough opponent from the outside looking in during his first season as head coach. The Hoosiers have played tough against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, but then gave up 42 points to Maryland. How has the program progressed so far in 2017?

Bad time for this question! I think perception of the Tom Allen experiment has shifted dramatically following the Maryland debacle. Indiana fans spent the entire Kevin Wilson tenure embroiled in high-scoring shootouts with everyone they played and Saturday was a throwback to the worst version of that: a team completely unable to slow down an opposing offense. Allen has done incredible things with Indiana’s defense since his arrival last season, and you can’t expect greatness week-in and week-out, but that was just a horrific performance.

Sure, it’s just one bad game, but it brought to the surface a lot of the concerns that were bubbling underneath for many IU fans. Is Tom Allen cut out for the gig? Can he make hay this season before the majority of his great defense graduates? Can the offense cobble together enough points each week to make the defensive performances matter? The Hoosiers really needed that Maryland game to give them some wiggle room in the last third of the season and now can’t afford to lose to Illinois, Purdue, or Rutgers (unless they upset Wisconsin) if they are to secure a third straight bowl berth. Tons of guys are departing after this season, and the Hoosiers were scheduled to take a step back in 2018 as-is. If the Hoosiers can’t get six wins out of an experienced roster and a favorable schedule, Tom Allen could be feeling the heat a lot earlier than anyone anticipated.

We always ask about injuries. Who could be out for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, who could return, and what’s the impact of each? Is there an update on quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who was injured against Maryland last week?

Where to begin? Injuries are suddenly piling up for a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth to spare. Two key cogs in the defensive backfield, A’Shon Riggins and Marcelino Ball, have been on the shelf for weeks. Riggins has reappeared on the depth chart but has yet to play a snap, and Ball is even further behind. Both guys were revelations as true freshmen and have missed most of this year with various knocks.

Starting receiver Donavan Hale has been out the past couple of weeks and is likely to miss the rest of the season, leaving Indiana without a nice big target to take some heat off of Simmie Cobbs. Dynamic punt returner J-Shun Harris tore his ACL for the third time in three seasons last week and he’ll be sorely missed in the return game. Our top two running backs, Mike Majette and Morgan Ellison, each missed the Maryland game and their status is up in the air for this week. Peyton Ramsey took several brutal hits against the Terrapins, and ended up ceding the end of the game to Richard Lagow, likely through a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. He’s firmly questionable for this week.

Offensively, the passing offense averages about 258 yards per contest and Cobbs, Jr., leads the Big Ten in receptions, but the rushing attack is 12th in the conference. How would you assess Indiana’s offense that averages nearly 80 plays per game through eight games, and who should Wisconsin fans be on the watch for?

The offense has been a disappointment, no other way to put it. They play extremely conservatively and they aren’t particularly good at it. The offensive line has been a mess from Week 1, and that plays a huge role in the aforementioned conservativeness. They can’t hold up consistently enough to let deeper routes develop, and they can’t create holes in the running game either. Ramsey became the starting quarterback essentially out of necessity. It wasn’t that Lagow was bad, but his complete lack of mobility made him incompatible with the line put in front of him. But Ramsey is starting to show signs of developing the kind of yips a QB can get when he faces a lot of pressure. He seemed to be seeing ghosts the past couple of weeks, bailing out of clean pockets and even running out of bounds five yards behind the LOS instead of throwing the ball away.

Defensively, the stats show a unit third in the Big Ten in pass defense (180.1 yards per game allowed) but also giving up about 162 on the ground, 10th in the conference. What have you seen out of Tegray Scales and the defense that averages 2.5 sacks per game?

The defense is the best unit the team has, even with the Maryland debacle, and they’re the reason Indiana has any wins at all. That said, they need to start generating turnovers in order to help out the offense. Short fields and quick-change situations can really boost a struggling offense and they need all the help they can get. Despite their consistently solid play, the defense just hasn’t generated much in the way of turnovers this season. Granted, they’re missing two of their best ballhawks in Riggins and Ball, but you still get the impression they’re leaving bigger plays out there.

Scales has been a monster. He’s the soul of the defense and brings a ton of experience and talent to the defense. He was a budding star as a true freshman and Tom Allen has only helped cultivate that potential.

Griffin Oakes has converted 11-of-12 field goal attempts this season. Allen also mentioned the Hoosiers had a punt blocked while giving up a long return against Maryland. How has this third phase of the game looked this season?

The kicking game has been up and down, but mostly up. Oakes has recovered from an extremely bad 2016 and is back to being one of the best placekickers in the conference while new Aussie punter Haydon Whitehead has been tremendous in his first year playing football. He was blocked on Saturday, but that was hardly his fault. Overall, the third phase has been much better than last year, but big mistakes still crop up a little too frequently.

Who needs to shine against Wisconsin to pull off the upset on Saturday, and what’s your prediction?

Can I say the training and medical staff? Indiana will need all hands on deck if they want to spring maybe the biggest upset of the college football season and they have too much talent on the shelf right now to make that even a remote possibility. Hopefully some guys will get back on the field and knock the rust off quick. The Hoosiers need them.