Fearless prediction: Wisconsin gets back on track vs. Indiana
The Wisconsin Badgers have been here before. They will return to the field after missing another game due to a coronavirus outbreak. The only differences are Wisconsin wasn’t the team going through the COVID-19 spread in its program, and the Badgers missed just one game this time instead of two.
After seeing its third of six scheduled games canceled against Minnesota last weekend, 16th-ranked Wisconsin will take on No. 12 Indiana at home Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC).
As it stands right now, Indiana sits at 5-1 and in second place in the B1G East behind 4-0 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are going through their own coronavirus outbreak and if they have one more game canceled in their final two, Indiana would likely represent the division in the conference title game. For Wisconsin, it is 2-1 but ineligible to compete for the B1G championship because it will not reach the minimum requirement of six regular season games.
Both teams are coming in with key losses as Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Hoosiers’ win over Maryland last week. For the Badgers, cornerback Rachad Wildgoose suffered an injury to his shoulder in Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern on Nov. 21, and he has since opted out of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Wisconsin offense vs. Indiana defense
This will be the most fascinating matchup to watch. We’ve only seen Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz play in meaningful college football games three times, and we’ve seen a wide range of results. In his first time out against Illinois, he looked fantastic and put himself in the record books for Wisconsin football. He was just okay in the win over Michigan, though he didn’t have to do much, and he played really bad in a loss to Northwestern.
Statistically, Indiana has a better defense than Illinois and Michigan, but it’s not as good as Northwestern according to yards per play allowed. It remains to be seen which weapons Mertz will have to throw to as starting wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor missed the game against Northwestern. In addition, the Badgers’ leading pass-catcher, tight end Jake Ferguson, injured his arm in the second half and was clearly not 100% while going in and out of the game.
Wisconsin appears to have found its next great running back with true freshman Jalen Berger. After missing Week 1, Berger led the Badgers backfield with 15 carries in each of the last two games for 180 total yards on 6 yards per carry. Indiana ranks about average defensively in yards per rush and yards per pass allowed.
Wisconsin defense vs. Indiana offense
The Indiana passing game did not perform well in its last game, a 27-11 win over Maryland, as Penix completed 6 of 19 passes for 84 yards before leaving with the injury. Redshirt sophomore Jack Tuttle is the Hoosiers’ backup quarterback, and he completed all 5 of his passes for 31 yards in relief. A transfer from Utah, Tuttle appeared in six games the last two seasons for Indiana and completed 11 of 16 passes for 65 yards. The loss of Penix hurts, but the drop off is not so significant that the Hoosiers will be lost on offense on Saturday. The biggest issue might just be going up against a Wisconsin defense that ranks third in the country in terms of yards per pass attempt allowed, though it’s only played three games. In addition, the loss of Wildgoose isn’t ideal, but the Badgers have solid depth in the secondary to replace him.
Indiana has struggled to move the ball offensively at times this season, especially in its running game, but the Hoosiers rushed for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns against Maryland. With running back Sampson James out, Tim Baldwin Jr. rushed for 106 yards and Stevie Scott III added 80 yards with 3 scores. Even with this performance, the Hoosiers are ranked No. 111 in the country in yards per rushing attempt, at 3.2.
The experts say Wisconsin should win this game by around 2 touchdowns, and I think that’s about what we’ll see. Both teams’ biggest strengths are on the defensive side of the ball, so points should be pretty hard to come by on each side. I think the Badgers will get a few of their pass-catchers back this week, and their defense will be dominant as it has been through three games of the season. Mertz will look better than he did against Northwestern and worse than he did against Illinois, but in the end the Badgers come away with a 27-13 victory with a late score to ice it.