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Wisconsin football 2020 opponent preview: Indiana Hoosiers

After a surprise eight-win 2019 season, can quarterback Michael Penix Jr. lead the Hoosiers to new heights in 2020?

While the Big Ten football season should be a month old by now, we are still stuck in neutral waiting to kickoff. The Wisconsin Badgers and the rest of the conference don’t get going until October 24, but we can’t really wait that long to start talking about football. It is time to start previewing Wisconsin’s opponents now!

The Badgers will play eight games in the regular season, all six division opponents and two cross-division opponents, and then a ninth game on B1G Championship Sunday against their place-doppelgänger from the East.

Next up in our opponent previews...Indiana.

Team name: Indiana Hoosiers

Location, stadium: Bloomington, Ind., Memorial Stadium

Head coach (years with team): Tom Allen (four years at Indiana)

Coordinators (years with team): Nick Sheridan (first year as offensive coordinator), Grant Heard (first year as co-offensive coordinator), Kane Wommack (second season as defensive coordinator)

2019 record, place in division: 8-5 overall (5-4 in Big Ten), No. 4 in East

2019 result vs. Wisconsin: Did not play

2020 game date vs. Wisconsin: Saturday, December 5, Camp Randall Stadium

Three key departing players: offensive tackle Coy Cronk (grad transferred to Iowa, team captain, four year starter, played four games in 2019 until season ending injury), quarterback Peyton Ramsey (grad transferred to Northwestern, 23 career starts, honorable-mention All-Big Ten 2019), wide receiver Nick Westbrook (572 yards, 5 touchdowns in 2019, team captain, program-record 52 career games played, currently on the Tennessee Titans)

Three key returning players: quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (began 2019 as the starting quarterback before an injury ended his season, 2020 Maxwell Award Watch List), running back Stevie Scott (845 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns in 2019, Second team All-Big Ten, 2020 Doak Walker Award Watch List), wide receiver Whop Philyor (1,002 yards, 5 touchdowns in 2019, Second team All-Big Ten, IU’s 2019 Offensive Player of the Year)

Overview of team: Indiana is looking to build on a breakthrough 2019 season that saw the Hoosiers win eight games for the first time since 1993. With Michigan State trending down, and Maryland and Rutgers as irrelevant as ever, Indiana has stepped up and become a competitive team in the Big Ten East, perhaps the toughest division in college football. The fact Indiana is no longer a doormat in the Big Ten is a testament to the job head coach Tom Allen has done with this program since he took over full-time in 2017.

The Hoosiers will be without quarterback Peyton Ramsey in 2020, who grad transferred to Northwestern after starting seven games last season. Ramsey was a team captain and filled in admirably after starter and redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. went down with a season-ending injury. Despite losing Ramsey, a player who led Indiana to their best season in over a decade, the offense is in good hands with Penix Jr. returning under center. The redshirt sophomore is super talented and showed flashes of potential in the six games he started last season.

Here’s what Mike Miller from Crimson Quarry had to say about Penix Jr. and the Indiana offense:

Health feels like a major storyline to monitor, particularly at the quarterback position. Michael Penix has demonstrated that he has the talent to be in the conversation with the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks, but he’s yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. If he can, Indiana’s offense should be explosive.

Penix Jr. will have plenty of firepower around him on the offensive side of the ball. Junior running back Stevie Scott returns after rushing for 845 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Also returning is number one receiver Whop Philyor who had a breakout season in 2019, catching 70 passes for 1,002 yards. Despite losing offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who took the head coaching job at Fresno State, the Hoosiers have the personnel to be one of the Big Ten’s best offense teams.

The real question marks for Indiana in 2020 are on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Tom Allen comes from a defensive background and coached up the defense pretty well last season. However, the defense struggled in games against elite teams. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jerome Johnson returns to anchor the defensive line, while sophomore cornerback Tiawan Mullen will look to improve on a stellar freshman season that saw him lead the Big Ten and finish second among freshmen nationally with 13 pass breakups.

Here’s what Mike Miller from Crimson Quarry said when asked what Indiana’s biggest weakness is heading into the season:

Pass rush: It feels like a perennial question mark for Indiana. IU has some interesting talent up front, but until this group generates more reliable pressure, it will remain a concern.

Overall, the Indiana program is heading in a great direction. Tom Allen has done a remarkable job and the Hoosiers should be at least competitive in almost all of their eight games in 2020.

Prediction for 2020 game vs. Wisconsin: There’s no doubt the Badgers are a more talented football team than the Hoosiers from top to bottom. However, Tom Allen’s squad is seriously loaded on the offensive side of the football. Penix Jr. has as much natural talent as any quarterback in the Big Ten not named Justin Fields, while Stevie Scott and Whop Philyor are All-Big Ten caliber skill position players. The problem with Indiana is that it’ll be extremely difficult for them to slow down Wisconsin’s rushing attack. The Badgers have a clear advantage on the line of scrimmage and I think that ultimately is the difference in this matchup. Indiana can put up points, but I think the Badgers are too good in the trenches to slip up here. I like Wisconsin to come out on top 34-21.