After the first College Football Playoff rankings were revealed this week, which ranked Wisconsin at No. 9, it’s clear Wisconsin needs a statement win in order to move into contention. Unfortunately, with no ranked opponents remaining on their schedule, it will take consecutive blowout victories culminating in a Big Ten Championship win for Wisconsin to turn heads nationally.
This weekend, Wisconsin travels to Bloomington, Indiana to face the 3-5 Hoosiers. Indiana boasted a much tougher strength of schedule than did Wisconsin, but it has reflected in their overall record. The Hoosiers have not won a single Big Ten game, so Wisconsin will aim to continue such a pattern and move to 9-0 overall. However, Indiana will be no easy opponent, regardless of outcome. It took Michigan overtime to take down the Hoosiers, Michigan State won by a margin of only eight, and Ohio State trailed late in the third quarter in their season opener versus Indiana.
What’s more, Wisconsin may need to make major adjustments after running back Jonathan Taylor, wide receiver Quintez Cephus and safety D’Cota Dixon are all listed as questionable currently. The severity of their injuries have yet to be disclosed, but losing leaders on both offense and defense does not bode well for Wisconsin’s ability to dominate Saturday.
Here are the players to watch from both sides.
Offense: Danny Davis
The freshman wide receiver has been a spark plug for Wisconsin in games past, and now that he is officially active after missing the last two game with a left leg injury, his energy should be a valuable asset to an offense that must be dynamic.
Davis only has seven receptions on the year, but they always seem to come during big moments. Should Wisconsin find themselves backed into yet another corner, they should feel confident in their ability to look towards Davis for that big play.
Additionally, with Jazz Peavy out, and Cephus and Taylor questionable, there’s no doubting Davis’s role will inevitably increase should neither of them play.
Indiana, however, boasts a top 20 passing defense, allowing just 180.1 yards per game. This will be a point of emphasis for Wisconsin to address heading into Saturday. Spreading the ball around and making sure every receiver is viewed as a threat will go a long way for both the passing attack as a whole, including players like Davis, and boost sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s rhythm and confidence.
Defense: Nick Nelson
Nelson has undoubtedly been Wisconsin’s premier pass defender this year. He’s physical, quick, smart and limits penalties. He has an innate gift when it comes to breaking up passes. His level of intervention during coverage is always on the brink of penalty, but instead passes as elite coverage, something all defensive backs should strive towards.
The Indiana pass attack boasts junior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., who leads the Big Ten with 54 receptions. Not far behind is junior wide receiver Luke Timian, who’s racked up 49. While Nelson can only worry about one at a time, his ability to deny the ball to any team’s star receiver has made his production invaluable to an at times shaky Wisconsin secondary.
Look for Nelson to make gutsy contested plays on the ball Saturday, his quick hands and elite athleticism could mean limiting potential Indiana scores.
Offense: Simmie Cobbs Jr.
Junior wide receiver Cobbs Jr. is a 6-4, 220 lb. dynamic receiver that has more catches than anyone in the Big Ten. He’s an obvious centerpiece to the Indiana offense, especially when their lead rusher has totaled just 473 yards on the season.
Per ESPN, Head Coach Paul Chryst had high praise for the junior and the Indiana offense as a whole.
“It’s a challenge with his physical size and you add the scheme to it,” Chryst said. “They do a great job with the slot [receivers]. Across the board, they may present the biggest challenge offensively … Our guys have to play sound defense.”
With a wide receiver as perhaps Indiana’s biggest threat, Wisconsin must commit to effective communication and accurate reads in the secondary if they hope to limit big plays.
Defense: Tegray Scales
Scales, a senior linebacker, leads Indiana’s defense with 64 total tackles, averaging an impressive 8 per game. He also leads the team in sacks with 4, totaling 33 total yards lost on such plays. Oh, he also leads the team in tackles for loss with 8, racking up 39 total yards lost.
Scales is a textbook disrupter. He’s an everyman. He’ll play multiple roles during Saturday’s game and as such, Wisconsin must plan for his versatile attack style. Limiting access to Hornibrook will go a long way to preserving offensive momentum.
What’s more, with an effective, even elite offensive line, Wisconsin must focus on shifting blocker effectively to both open up gaps for the rush attack and bottle up blitzes that aim to exploit holes.
Prediction: Wisconsin will walk away with the W, but it will do nothing to boost their resume, as past struggles to build sizable leads will haunt them yet again.
Photo courtesy of foxsports.com