From the Other Side: Purdue vs. Wisconsin preview with Hammer and Rails

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Miller of SB Nation's Purdue site, Hammer and Rails, stops by to chat Darrell Hazell, expectations for this weekend's game and whether the Badgers should fear a trap game following the Arizona State debacle.

1. B5Q: Wisconsin's last game was miserable, largely due to that irksome feeling that comes with the perception of getting "jobbed" by the refs but also due to the acknowledgement of a missed opportunity to keep an undefeated season rolling. So the first question we're wondering is simple: Should we fear this Purdue team?

Travis: If you were asking me last week at this time, I would say no. In the first two games of the season, our offense looked like it was far less challenging than the two patsies you guys shut out. Then the Notre Dame game happened. Suddenly, our offense was competent and Rob Henry was making smart decisions. He still missed some throws, but other than his pick-six (which was huge) he was checking down and letting the offense work for him.

Purdue is still a big underdog in Madison because our running game has been nowhere close to what it should be, but after at least challenging the Irish and outplaying them for three quarters despite being a 20-point underdog, I am encouraged. Given Danny Hope's tendency to be surprised that Wisconsin is a running team and looking ill-prepared as a result, I think I'd be happy if it was still a game at halftime.

2. B5Q: What are the early impressions of first-year head coach Darrell Hazell? It's sort of interesting having two new Big Ten coaches face off in the conference opener.

Travis: He got a lot of people on board over the summer, then the first two games happened. Now, after the Notre Dame game, the fans have swung back in his favor. A lot of this comes from showing tangible progress and looking like a completely different team against Notre Dame.

Hazell is big on accountability, something that never really happened under Hope. With Hope, if a guy like Caleb TerBush struggled in a game and was replaced by Robert Marve, who would come in and do better, it was always, "Well, Caleb is the guy in practice so we're sticking with him." Hazell has clearly learned from Jim Tressel during his time at Ohio State and he is trying to instill that accountability and discipline at Purdue. It may take awhile, but so far, so good.

3. B5Q: Offensively, what should we expect from the Boilermakers?

Travis: The running game has been troublesome so far and we expected a lot more out of it. Notre Dame has a good front seven, so the struggles there are understandable, but against Indiana State we were stuffed seven times in situations where we either went for it on 4th-and-1 or had 1st-and-goal at the 1. The offensive line is not getting a huge push to help the running game much.

Akeem Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins have looked good at catching passes out of the backfield, however. B.J. Knauf has been a versatile weapon as either a speedy receiver or getting the ball on the sweep. These three guys have had the most success in moving the football, but Purdue is not getting them the ball in space with consistency.

I also like how Justin Sinz, a native of Edgar, Wisconsin, replaced the injured Gabe Holmes last week. Sinz is a big, bruising tight end that did well on underneath routes last week to move the chains.

As for Henry at quarterback, he was much better against Notre Dame, but still has room to improve. He is making smarter decision, but has not been terribly accurate. Against both Cincinnati and Notre Dame he had an ugly interception that was returned for a touchdown that effectively ended the game.

4. B5Q: And defensively, how's Purdue looked?

Travis: For which half? In the first half of games so far, Purdue has only given up 17 total points, and one of those two touchdowns was a drive against the two-minute drill. Indiana State and Notre Dame did virtually nothing in the first half of either game and Purdue looked strong against the run. That is obviously huge against a running team like Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, some of the struggles on offense have led to fatigue on defense. Cincinnati dropped 21 points on Purdue in the second half, Indiana State 14 and Notre Dame 21. The Boilers struggled to get key third-down stops in all there of those games that they needed to get off the field.

One player I have been very pleased with is Joe Gilliam, who has looked like a real, live, serviceable Big Ten linebacker after a decade of undersized guys, walk-ons or guys playing out of position. Ricardo Allen also has four career interceptions returned for touchdowns and nearly got one against both Indiana State and Notre Dame.

5. B5Q: Should we expect a sizable contingent of Purdue fans in Madison this weekend?

Travis: It is hard to say. I made my only visit to Madison in 2009 when we got stomped 37-0, and there wasn't much of a crowd. I expect there will be a couple hundred fans, but I wouldn't expect us to take over the stadium or anything. It is not like we're playing in Champaign or Bloomington.

6. B5Q: Purdue hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2003. Do you think that changes this weekend? Give us a prediction.

Travis: I would be surprised if it did. Wisconsin is still a big, strong running team and it has run over us for a very long time. Unless Purdue's offense continues to improve and we miraculously stop the run, I expect a comfortable Wisconsin win.

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