Nov. 11, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Wisconsin safety Shelton Johnson went into the Indiana game with one thing in mind.
Be aggressive -- and if a pass is completed in front of you -- attack the receiver.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash planted that seed in each of his defensive backs.
“Coach Ash emphasized if they do catch the ball,’’ Johnson said, “get them down without any missed tackles or yards after the catch.’’
The week before, Indiana’s Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer each had over 100 receiving yards against Iowa; the first time two IU receivers had topped 100 in the same Big Ten game since 1992.
The Hoosiers didn’t waste any time challenging Wisconsin’s ability to cover and tackle in space.
On the first play of Saturday’s game, quarterback Cameron Coffman fired a pass in the right flat to the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hughes. The ball and Johnson arrived at almost the same time.
Johnson flattened Hughes for no gain. Message delivered.
“That’s the main way you combat a quick, on-the-ball offense,’’ Johnson said.
Coffman completed two other passes on that first series for 7 and 5 yards before the Badgers forced a punt. In the first quarter, Coffman was 6-of-11 for only 30 yards. The longest gain was 8 yards.
“You don’t ever want the quarterback to get into a rhythm; especially with an offense like that,’’ Johnson said. “If they hit you once, they have a big opportunity to hit you again if the quarterback and his receivers get a nice rhythm going.’’
With the exception of one scoring drive in the second quarter, and another in the fourth quarter, the Indiana offense never got anything going against a sure-tackling Wisconsin defense.
The Hoosiers had scored at least 24 points in 10 straight games, a school record. But the Badgers never allowed them to get untracked during Saturday’s 62-14 romp in Bloomington.
“The best way to defend Indiana -- an up-tempo, fast-pace offense -- is to keep them off the field,’’ said UW linebacker Ethan Armstrong, who helped hold the Hoosiers under 300 total yards.
“They definitely put a lot of stress on the linebackers, but we knew that coming in. We had a lot of confidence in our techniques and what the coaches were asking us to do.’’
There was one sequence in the third quarter that best illustrated how Indiana’s spread offense can stretch a defense, particularly the linebackers.
Coffman completed a pass in the left flat to running back Steven Houston for a gain of 4 yards. Armstrong made the tackle.
On the very next play, Coffman completed a pass in the right flat to wide receiver Jamone Chester for a gain of 1 yard. Armstrong again made the tackle.
This was the epitome of a linebacker literally ranging from sideline to sideline to make plays.
“We just needed to go out and execute as a defense,’’ Armstrong said. “We knew our offense was going to do what they needed to do and we just needed to get them the ball.’’
In the next breath, Armstrong admitted that Wisconsin’s ground game was stunning.
Call it the Indy 500 plus 64. Or the Indy 564.
Either or, it carried the Badgers back to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
“Man, it was impressive,’’ Armstrong said of the school-record 564 rushing yards. “They controlled the line of scrimmage. They controlled the clock. They controlled the game.
“They made it really easy for us. They gave us a lot of rest.’’
Added Johnson, “When they have success, we have success.’’
But did anyone see it coming?
“It was our goal to get 400 rushing yards,’’ said UW center Travis Frederick. “We knew it was a possibility. But to do it the way we did it today -- I really didn’t have that idea.
“The running backs did a tremendous job, the tight ends really blocked well and the wide receivers made some good blocks on the outside. We did a good job today as a team.’’
Although tailback Montee Ball has flourished against Indiana -- rushing for over 100 yards four times against the Hoosiers -- he knew that he was a part of an historic outing.
“We were pretty confident that we were going to come in and establish the running game and do some great things on the ground,’’ he said. “But we were blessed to put those numbers up.’’
Wisconsin’s rushing total was most in the 53-year history of Memorial Stadium. The previous record was 441 yards. The Badgers had 438 through three quarters.
“When someone runs the ball like that,’’ said IU coach Kevin Wilson, “it’s very demoralizing.’’
Late in the first half, James White had the most impactful run of the day.
On third-and-16, White zigged and zagged and zigged and deked Greg Heban off his feet. Picking up blocks from Jared Abbrederis and Kenzel Doe, he was escorted to the end zone by Curt Phillips.
The 69-yard touchdown broke open a 17-7 game and tore out Indiana’s heart with 13 seconds left in the second quarter. The Hoosiers never recovered.
“It’s always good to end the first half with a great play,’’ Ball said, “and we just carried the momentum through the second half.’’
Nobody appreciated the running support more than Phillips, who was making his first career start for the Badgers and his first start since his senior year of high school in 2007.
“You saw James cut back, he just refused to go down,’’ Phillips said. “Montee had a couple of those runs, too. The extra effort was huge. When they’re running like that, it’s hard to stop.’’
It didn’t take long for Phillips to get up to speed.
On the Wisconsin’s second offensive play, he barely got the ball out of his hand -- it fell for an incomplete pass -- before getting smacked in the chest by Indiana defensive tackle Larry Black.
“I feel like it takes that first good shot to kind of get going,’’ Phillips said. “I enjoyed it.’’
He also had two runs on the UW’s first series that kept the drive alive.
“Those weren’t necessarily designed runs for him,’’ said tight end Jacob Pedersen. “That was just Curt reading the defense and making plays with his feet to keep the chains moving.’’
Pedersen was impressed with how Phillips managed the huddle.
“He has that senior leadership,’’ he said, “and he has been around all of us for a long time, so he was real confident in everything that he did. He was loud and vocal and he did exactly what a quarterback has to do.’’
Frederick saw and heard the same things.
“Curt is a guy who everybody respects just because of everything that he has gone through,’’ said Frederick, referencing the three ACL procedures Phillips has had on his right knee.
“He really commands the attention and the leadership of everybody else. He did a great job of getting us on the right track today and doing the things that we needed to do.’’
Phillips was tougher on himself than others in terms of critiquing his play.
“Some of them weren’t so obvious,’’ he said, “but I had some mental busts that kind of held us back on the drives that stalled. I’ve got to improve on that. But it was a start.
“It was a lot of fun today. I kind of felt like a little kid on Christmas.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was just excited and anxious.’’
Phillips completed 4-of-7 passes for 41 yards.
Yes, the Badgers had fewer passing yards than they had points. They also had more points than Bryant scored in a basketball game Friday night against the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers, who won 97-54.
The standards for the passing game vary from quarterback to quarterback, system to system. It’s not always how many (throws), but how well and how timely (the throws are).
In the 1996 Copper Bowl, Mike Samuel completed 2-of-6 passes for 16 yards. As a team, the Badgers rushed for 349 yards, including 246 from Ron Dayne, in a 38-10 win over Utah.
Outside of Phillips’ 53-yard run against Indiana -- which rekindled memories of another No. 10, Samuel -- there was one play that clearly defined what the Badgers need out of Phillips.
And it went beyond just being a game manager and handing the football to the tailbacks.
In the third quarter, on fourth-and-2 from the IU 30, Phillips stared down blitzing linebacker Chase Hoobler and got the ball in the flat to his fullback Derek Watt for a gain of 17.
That play was huge from the perspective of underscoring Phillips’ poise under pressure.
The Badgers had run the same play in the first half; only to the other side of the formation. But the pass never got to Watt. Instead, it was deflected by Indiana linebacker David Cooper.
“I didn’t do a good job on the first one and he was open,’’ Phillips said. “So we knew it was going to be there. When you’re running the ball that well, the play-action is going to be there.
“I just had to get it out (to Watt). He (Hoobler) got me pretty good.’’
But Phillips enjoyed it, every hit and every minute of it.
So did his teammates knowing the victory clinched a slot in the Big Ten championship game.
Would they allow themselves to think about Indy? Or is the focus solely on Ohio State?
The Badgers will close out their home season with Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium.
“It certainly crosses your mind that we’re a lock to go to Indy now, which is a great thing,’’ Frederick said. “For us, though, we’re looking forward to Ohio State. We want to celebrate Senior Day.’’
The Badgers need a little help but they can still grab a share of the Leaders Division title.
“We’ve got to get back to work,’’ Armstrong said. “Nobody on this team wants to back into anything; nobody wants to lose two games going into the championship game.
“We’re real excited about playing an undefeated Ohio State team and it will be exciting to get them at home for Senior Day. We definitely want to send our seniors out the right way.’’