‘D’ ready to shut down Chappell
MADISON – It’s been four weeks since Wisconsin knocked off top-ranked Ohio State in front of a raucous crowd of Badger fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Finally, after a pair of road wins sandwiched around a bye week, the Badgers return home Saturday to host the Indiana Hoosiers and the Big Ten’s top passing attack.
“It feels like it’s been a month since Lerner’s helmet got taken and we were running around the field,” said safety Jay Valai, referring to the postgame celebration and backup kicker Alec Lerner. “It’s exciting to go back out there, it’s going to be a good atmosphere and I can’t wait.”
One of the highlights of Wisconsin’s last home game was the opening kickoff, which David Gilreath took 96 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for what was to come. Thanks to the evening start, the stadium was already packed, compared with the thousands of empty seats typically associated with the first quarter at Camp Randall.
With Ben Chappell and Indiana’s vaunted passing attack coming to town, head coach Bret Bielema – who sent a special message out Thursday to student season ticket holders – and the Badgers hope to see fans arrive on time once again.
“If you’re not in the seats before the first couple minutes against Ohio State, you never would have saw David Gilreath’s kickoff return,” Bielema said. “If we could get the student section going [from the start], I think it would be a very, very special thing to close out the rest of the year.”
Following the team’s practice Wednesday, defensive end J.J. Watt echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We can’t wait to get in front of the home fans, hopefully they’re as rowdy and they were against Ohio State,” Watt said. “It would nice if they could show up on time this week, and it would be much appreciated.”
Aside from asking students to arrive more promptly for the final two home games, the focus this week for Wisconsin, at least on the defensive end, is shutting down the pass.
In the Badgers’ 55-20 victory at Indiana in 2008, Chappell tossed for 126 yards and a touchdown, completing 11-of-20 passes in the first half before missing the remainder of the game due to injury. Following a Chappell touchdown run that put Indiana within one point at 21-20, Wisconsin scored 34 unanswered points over the game’s final 34 minutes.
Last year, playing at Memorial Stadium once again, Chappell connected on 25-of-35 attempts, passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Wisconsin’s defense came up with two interceptions and a sack, all three of which played a major role in the Badgers’ 31-28 victory. This season, interceptions have been easier for opposing defense to come by than sacks against Indiana.
Chappell, who has attempted 378 passes, has been intercepted eight times, which equals the number of sacks allowed by the IU offensive line through nine games.
“They’re an extremely efficient passing offense,” Watt said. “Their quarterback gets the ball out very quickly, so it’s going to be tough to get a lot of sacks on him. I believe they have 380 passing attempts on the year and he’s only given up eight or nine sacks. So he gets the ball out quick and he knows how to avoid the rush.
“We need to get after him. We definitely need to get after their quarterback and try to rattle him.”
If Watt and his fellow defensive linemen are unable to get much pressure on Chappell, the pressure to stop the Hoosiers offense, which averages 27.6 points per game, will fall primarily on the secondary.
Indiana averages nearly 44 passes per game, as opposed to 29 rushes per game. Comparatively, the Wisconsin offense rushes 42 times with 22 passes per game.
Facing an increased workload this week, the secondary looks forward to the challenge.
“Schematically it changes our approach, but defensively it really doesn’t,” safety Aaron Henry said. “We’ve got to go out there and do what we’ve been doing the whole season. This is just another challenge for our secondary to go out their and showcase our abilities. They are the No. 1 passing attack in the Big Ten, but it’s an opportunity for us, so that’s how we’re approaching it.”