The teams: The No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) vs the No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers (5-1)
The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
The TV coverage: ABC with Joe Tessitore and Greg McElroy in the booth and Holly Rowe on the sideline.
The last time: Wisconsin got 183 yards from Jonathan Taylor and blew open a close game halftime to win going away 45-17.
The series: Wisconsin leads 41-18-2
The line: Wisconsin -14
The Badgers injury report:
WR Danny Davis
THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH
1) Back again
After getting a third game canceled this year, the Badgers return to the field for just their second — and final — home game of the season. When Wisconsin missed two games earlier this year, it came back with a vengeance, rolling to a blowout win at Michigan. Could the same pent-up frustration over missing opportunities to play Minnesota power coach Paul Chryst’s team to a win over the Hoosiers? Possibly.
Perhaps more importantly, the week off allowed several guys, including wide receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis, along with tight end Jake Ferguson, to heal up further and give the Badgers a fighting chance against a good Indiana defense.
2) Flushing it
Quarterback Graham Mertz didn’t play well the last time we saw him. He threw three interceptions and turned the ball over a total of four times in the loss to Northwestern. The redshirt freshman accepted responsibility for the effort and vowed to be better the next time out. He said the issues were tied to his footwork and timing, both easy fixes. His coaches believe it was only a bump in the road.
“He will bounce back in a great way, as everyone will,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “It’s not the first time we’ve gone in there (Northwestern) and not done a great job in taking care of the ball, and we’ve bounced back. That’s part of the reason why this is the program that it is. The resiliency of the group and the mindset to bounce back and to attack the next opportunity a million percent.”
Bouncing back will be easier said than done against an Indiana defense that leads the Big Ten in sacks and tops the country in interceptions. The Hoosiers will give Mertz a bunch of different looks and take risks in getting after him in the pocket. With Pryor likely back, and Davis a possibility, can Mertz and a more veteran receiver group take advantage?
3) Hello, Jack Tuttle
Indiana will come to Madison without one of the Big Ten’s breakout stars in quarterback Michael Penix Jr. after he tore an ACL against Maryland last week. In steps redshirt sophomore Jack Tuttle, who Wisconsin coaches are familiar with. They were among the teams that recruited him hard coming out of high school. Will that give them any kind of leg up on Saturday?
“I think you have a little bit more information because obviously you built a relationship with the kid as a program,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “You kind of get to know personality and skillset because you’re studying him. You’re trying to get the kid in your program. So there’s a little more familiarity with him, but obviously there is a lot of maturing that happens over a couple year period.”
Leonhard added he’s not expecting a significant change in the way Indiana plays despite the switch at quarterback. He knows Tuttle, who completed all five passes he threw in relief of Pennix last week, is more than competent to run the offense the way the Hoosiers need him to.
For Wisconsin’s defense it’ll about stopping what has been, for most of the year, an anemic IU run game and forcing the inexperienced Tuttle into beating them with his arm.
4) Rising up to the challenge
Wisconsin’s secondary has been better than any receiving core it’s faced so far this year. That might not be the case this week as Indiana brings the second-leading receiver in the Big Ten to town in Ty Fryfogle. The senior got the Badgers attention thanks to his size (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) and big play ability (19.8 yards per catch, seven touchdowns). He’s gone over 200 yards three times this season, including against Ohio State when he also caught three touchdowns.
“He’s impressive,” Leonhard said. “There’s times he’s creating space and big windows for the quarterback to throw. Obviously he’s a big target, great size, strong at the point of attack. When he hasn’t been able to create space he’s going up and winning 50-50 balls. It’s fun to watch. He’s an impressive player to me.”
Fryfogle’s not alone, though, as the Hoosiers can also throw the ball to Whop Philyor (32 catches) and Miles Marshall (17 catches). Throw in tight end Peyton Hendershot (20 catches, three touchdowns) and it’s a monster task for Wisconsin.
Normally, Leonhard might allow Rachad Wildgoose to focus on Fryfogle. But Wildgoose suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Northwestern and then declared for the NFL Draft. So it will be on veterans likes Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks, along with younger players like Donte Burton and Semar Melvin, to step up.
5) Ride Jalen Berger?
It’s become clear in the last two games that Jalen Berger is the next big thing at running back. After not playing in the opener because he was battling a bit of an injury, he’s carried 30 times for 180 yards (6.0 yards per carry) against Michigan and Northwestern.
“His personality is showing a little bit more and I think that kind of lends to his comfort level,” Rudolph said. “I really like what he’s been able to do to this point. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg with him.”
With Indiana’s pass rush as good as it is, and the uncertainty around Wisconsin’s passing game, Berger should get more than the 15 carries he’s gotten the last two times out, especially if he’s having the same kind of success.
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
Wisconsin has beaten Indiana 10 straight times and hasn’t lost to the Hoosiers since 2002. The average margin of victory in those games is 35.9 points.
Wisconsin has lost back-to-back games just three times during Paul Chryst’s tenure and 13-3 overall after a loss.
Saturday marks just the second time that Wisconsin and Indiana will play when both are ranked in the AP Top 25. The only other time it happened was in 1994 when the Badgers were No. 16 and the Hoosiers were No. 21. Wisconsin won that game 62-13.