The Wisconsin Badgers (5-3) will look to move on from last week’s loss when they take on the Indiana Hoosiers (2-6) Saturday at 11 a.m. in Bloomington, Indiana.
After falling to now No. 1-ranked Ohio State 24-10 last week, Wisconsin has an opportunity to right the ship against a bottom-feeding Hoosiers team.
Sitting at 5-3 and 3-2 in conference play, Wisconsin’s season hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Head coach Luke Fickell’s hiring made waves through the college football world and hopes of a championship-caliber team followed. Whether these expectations were unfair or not, they undoubtedly played an enormous role in generating offseason excitement in Madison
It’s hype the Badgers haven’t lived up to.
While by no means bad, Wisconsin’s defense isn’t the dominant group Badgers fans are used to. And with numerous injuries to key players, an already struggling offense has been left depleted in the first year of new offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s total systematic upheaval. It’s hard to produce results in the first year of a completely new system, and Wisconsin is in the midst of finding this out.
Nonetheless, even in a loss, Saturday’s game against Ohio State was a step in the right direction. Playing against a perennial powerhouse, Wisconsin had the game tied in the third quarter. While the Badgers were unable to finish the job, a 14-point loss certainly beats the 52-21 drubbing they endured last season against Ohio State. Fickell’s squad is not among the leaders that the Big Ten, like many prematurely assumed, but Wisconsin is setting building blocks for its future.
All this leads into Saturday’s matchup at Indiana. In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Hoosiers have yet to win a Big Ten game.
However, Indiana played some of their best football last week in a 33-24 loss at No. 11 Penn State, a game closer than the final score indicated. Penn State is no easy place to play, and as 30-point underdogs, the Hoosiers came in and seriously threatened a team at the top of the conference.
For Wisconsin to handle Indiana, they will need to contain quarterback Brendan Sorsby and the Hoosier passing game. Sorsby threw for 269 yards and three touchdown passes in just 13 completions against Penn State.
Sorsby has largely been subpar this season, but coming off a game in which he threw for touchdowns of 90, 60 and 26 yards, Indiana will look to ride his hot hand against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s secondary struggled at times containing wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and a potent Ohio State passing attack last week, but against a lesser opponent, the Badgers will have an opportunity to get back on track against the Hoosiers.
Offensively, the Badgers enter this game shorthanded. Already without starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai and running back Chez Mellusi, star running back Braelon Allen and starting wide receiver Chimere Dike are listed as questionable for Saturday.
A subpar Wisconsin offense will be put to the test if Allen and Dike are unable to play,.
To take care of Indiana, the Badgers will have to rely on a combination of reserve running backs Jackson Acker and Cade Yacamelli. Pegged as the third- and fourth-string running backs heading into the season, they have gained increased roles as the running back room continues to fall victim to injury.
Acker carried the ball nine times for 34 yards against Ohio State, while Yacamelli lost four yards in his only rushing attempt. The running game has long been Wisconsin’s offensive specialty, and Acker and Yacamelli must step up if Allen is out.
Freshman quarterback Braedon Locke and the Wisconsin receivers will also have to do their part as well on Saturday. Transfer wide receiver Will Pauling has emerged as Locke’s favorite receiver, and the two have hooked up for touchdowns in each of the last two weeks. The Locke-Pauling combo is one of Wisconsin’s most reliable connections and must continue against Indiana.
In other circumstances, Wisconsin would be expected to handle the Hoosiers with ease. But with a struggling offense decimated by injury, Wisconsin’s matchup with the Hoosiers has the potential to get interesting.