In No. 4 Wisconsin, IU has final opportunity for signature win

When Tom Allen refers to Indiana’s season-long breakthrough mantra, he’s speaking about a mindset.

The Indiana coach points toward a hopeful culture change, a season where this Hoosier football program consistently delivers.

Through two months of action, IU is failing in that mission.

Time is running out for the Hoosiers, who have lost three consecutive winnable games and have yet to claim a single Big Ten victory with four contests remaining in the season. With No. 4 Wisconsin visiting this weekend, Saturday represents Indiana’s final opportunity to achieve a signature win during a year of near-misses.

Last week’s loss at Maryland was Indiana’s most discouraging defeat yet. The Hoosiers finally found some traction offensively, but were undone by defense and special teams — the two units that Indiana has found pride in this season.

Although the special teams performance undeniably hurt, the defensive letdown was perhaps most disappointing. For a unit that welcomes expectations of fielding one of the top 25 units in the nation, the Maryland game was certainly not good enough.

It illustrated just how much Indiana relies on its defense to lead the way — and how much the Hoosiers need that group to rebound this weekend against the Badgers.

“I think we had a mental letdown,” Allen said. “I think we got a pick the second play of the game. Our offense had just gone down and scored in a methodical way. We’re up 14-0, and that really frustrates me that we didn’t have enough maturity.

“You sense a little bit of that. As a coach you continue to coach hard. But for whatever reason, that’s the only way I could explain it. We had a little emotional let-up. When they punched back, we didn’t have a counterpunch.”

For Indiana to reverse its fortunes, that can’t happen again.

IU allowed 6.2 yards per play to Maryland, gave up four passes of at least 24 yards and yielded six runs that went for at least 11 yards, including explosive gashes of 29 and 46 yards.

“It was a lack of focus, minor mistakes here and there that we usually don’t do,” defensive back Tony Fields said. “So, coming back, players got together and we just decided we have to refocus, keep watching film, keep preparing and keep fighting.”

Wisconsin won’t surprise Indiana. The Badgers are who they’ve been for years — a team dedicated to running the ball.

Led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who leads the Big Ten with 148.1 rushing yards per game, Wisconsin’s offense does a good job of staying on schedule. The Badgers are ranked No. 17 nationally with a 47 percent offensive success rate and are No. 22 in the country with an average of 4.96 points per trip inside the 40-yard line.

Wisconsin’s rushing offense is No. 16 with 245.7 rushing yards per game, while Indiana’s rushing defense is No. 61, having allowed an average of 162 yards on the ground per contest.

“You have to use different personnel groupings and different things that you do to match up with that style, but that’s part of being in this conference,” Allen said. “… Playing Wisconsin, this is really our third time playing a team similar to this, although they are the biggest and really probably the most physical across-the-board style of offense we play, with a heavy emphasis on running. It’s a completely different system than we saw last week and, really, a completely different system than the majority of the teams you see all year.”

The Hoosiers will look to capitalize on the mistakes that have creeped into Wisconsin’s offense at times this season, particularly in the passing game.

Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown eight interceptions this year, including at least one in each of Wisconsin’s five Big Ten games this season.

For Indiana, it’s all about making this game count.

After a series of letdowns, including one last week that centered on sub-optimal defensive play, the Hoosiers’ pursuit of a signature win starts on that side of the ball.

“We talked about when things go well for you early, how are you gonna respond?” Allen said. “You often talk about how you’re gonna respond to adversity that happens early, but you also have to deal with something positive and not letting up. We have to play at a fever pitch for 60 minutes and beyond. We didn’t do that to my standard (last week). I think that’s something that’s very fixable and we addressed it, for sure.”

2 comments

  1. Let’s do this…. just a little bit of Kool aid left in the barrel… you just never know. Go Hoosiers!

  2. Absolutely! Go Hoosiers! It has to be a big day for Lagow. I don’t see any way that Ramsey adds anything to this game if his wheels aren’t a 100%. He offers no advantage.

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