Run it up: Ground game has led to Badger blowouts against Hoosiers
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory didn’t need to dissect clips of Wisconsin’s 2013 offense to understand the enormity of the challenge he faces this week.
When UW and Indiana met in 2011 in Madison, the Badgers rushed 42 times for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-7 victory.
When UW and Indiana met last season in Bloomington, the Badgers rushed 64 times for a school-record 564 yards and seven touchdowns in a 62-14 victory.
When the teams meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, UW (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will feature the No. 10 rushing offense in the nation at 280.6 yards per game, with 28 rushing touchdowns.
“They run the ball extremely well,” said Mallory, who was promoted to defensive coordinator last winter after serving as a co-coordinator in his first two seasons.
And like the last two seasons, UW has two running threats with whom the Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) must contend.
Sophomore Melvin Gordon is No. 7 nationally in rushing yards per game (128.9) and senior James White is 21st (105.7). Both have 11 rushing touchdowns.
“It is a talented offense,” Mallory said. “It is a veteran offense, a lot of the guys we played against it seems like for the last two years.”
Indiana counters with the 108th-ranked rushing defense (217.4 ypg, 24 TDs).
Every team the Hoosiers have faced this season, save for Penn State, has rushed for 131 yards or more.
Since holding Penn State to 70 rushing yards on 38 attempts in a 44-24 victory on Oct. 5, Indiana has allowed a total of 896 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in four games, three of them losses.
“You look at them on the defensive side of the ball,” UW coach Gary Andersen said, “one thing I’ll say (is) those kids, they’re playing hard. They’ve got a good scheme. And week in and week out, they continue to battle.”
Andersen was wisely being complimentary because the numbers illustrate the Hoosiers are losing those battles.
UW possesses sufficient talent and diversity on offense to post big numbers against the Hoosiers on Saturday.
With opponents focused on containing Gordon on the jet sweep, UW has used that as a teaser and enjoyed more success running between the tackles.
When Gordon finished with 62 yards on 17 carries at Iowa, White led the way with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
BYU was determined to take away the jet sweep last week and Gordon finished with 86 yards on 19 carries. White burned the Cougars for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“We’re just trying to play Wisconsin football,” UW tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “The O-line has really come together. They are playing well.
“I think at tight end we’re blocking pretty well. And at the receiver level they are getting up and getting on the safeties. You’re seeing it all come together.
“And obviously when you’ve got the backs that we have you’re going to be getting yards in the run game.”
If Mallory could focus exclusively on slowing White and Gordon, his task would be considered merely difficult. Mallory knows he can’t, though, mostly because of the presence of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.
Despite missing four-plus quarters because of injuries, Abbrederis is fourth in the Big Ten in receptions (54) and receiving yards (849).
If Indiana doesn’t deploy enough defenders close to the line of scrimmage, both White and Gordon could break the 100-yard mark. They’ve accomplished that feat in the same game four times this season.
However, if Indiana crowds the line of scrimmage and leaves Abbrederis facing single coverage, the senior could enjoy a huge day.
Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon had 14 receptions for 369 yards (26.4 average) and two scores against the Hoosiers. Gallon recorded 25% of his receptions and 39% of his receiving yards this season in that game.
Illinois wide receiver Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards (24.9 average) and two touchdowns against the Hoosiers. Those totals amount to 32.1% of his receptions and 39.7% of his receiving yards.
“You have to have an idea where he is at on every snap,” Mallory said of Abbrederis. “You’ve got to get the numbers up there to stop the run, but I don’t know if you can win one-on-one all day without pressure on the quarterback’s face.
“You’ve got to find ways to be able to adjust some of your coverages to be able to give the cornerback help.”
Based on recent history, Mallory will need to find ways to give his linemen, linebackers and secondary help in slowing UW.