Recent history has not been kind to Purdue. Truth be told, when you're coming off a season where your only win was by six points against an FCS team that went 1-11, you're looking for the faintest signs of hope. But this iteration of Purdue isn't bad. The Boilermakers are still as likely to get to a bowl game as I am to make a political analogy that's not going to make everyone say, "Stick to sports."
Purdue is spry. Saturday, the Boilermakers do get homefield advantage as the Wisconsin Badgers get themselves yet another morning football game. They need a win here to keep their bowl hopes alive. Will they get it?
Since Austin Appleby took over the starting quarterback job, Purdue's been better at moving the ball. The Boilermakers stood toe-to-toe with Michigan State, and if we're being honest, they probably should have beaten Minnesota. Sure, Nebraska was able to mostly stonewall the offense. But with Appleby, you can't just beat this offense by merely showing up.
Akeem Hunt is still the running back, and as a senior, we know who he is: shifty, with good hands out of the backfield. But Nebraska shut him down for 21 carries and 66 yards, and with Wisconsin's front seven being much better than Nebraska's on a per-play basis (Nebraska's 41st at 3.74, Wisconsin's tied for eighth at 3.08), Hunt is likely to face some tough sledding,
The good news? Purdue hasn't been trying to get aggressive down the field, unless you have a defense that's Illinois-bad. Appleby's last three games had him go 58-of-109 for 580 yards; that's good for 5.32 yards per attempt and an obvious 10 yards per completion. This fits with the Boilermakers' style when Danny Etling was under center: keep it short, keep it horizontal. Purdue's 126th in yards per attempt.
Though after Danny Anthrop tore his ACL in the Nebraska game, one can understand their desire to stay horizontal. Cameron Posey stepped in and made some plays after the injury, but as it stands, Darius Hillary is likely facing off against Purdue's preseason third at wide receiver. We will see Purdue try to establish Hunt as a safety valve, and Edgar, Wisconsin native Justin Sinz will likely grab a couple of balls. But unless something unseen happens at receiver, there will likely be little to stop UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from doing things that Aranda does, The Badgers are averaging three sacks a game, and sure Purdue doesn't have a bad offensive line, yet for a team that runs so many short routes, 17 sacks in nine games shows that a creative defensive coordinator is going to be able to do some damage.
That leads us to the offensive question we all want to know: how good is Purdue's rush defense? Well, it's not as downy-soft as a Rutgers or an Illinois. But at 86th per game, and a tie for 77th per play, the Boilermakers can be had on the ground. That signals another good day for Melvin Gordon and some potential big plays for Corey Clement. So unless the passing game goes purple and Purdue generates turnovers, Wisconsin's offense should be fine. Not good enough to avoid some agita, but the ground game will do its thing.
And now it's time for the beating-a-dead-horse section, brought to you by portmanteaus! McStavoy is now 2-for-3 in terms of bad weeks passing the ball. Sure, the Rutgers game wasn't going to be good for anyone. But Tanner McEvoy has been more c-c-c-combo breaker than c-c-c-change-up in these past few match-ups. Purdue's pass defense numbers are based on the fact that most of its opponents throw 35-to-40 times a game.. It's not a defense that will shut down a passing game. In fact, defensive back Frankie Williams (60 tackles, seven pass break-ups and three interceptions) might miss the game. The Badgers could get something done through the air, though at this point I'm just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in terms of the passing game. Rhythm and hearts will likely be broken through the air.
While Purdue's improved even going from September to November, this looks like another game where Wisconsin can follow its standard path to victory: a shutdown defense, three sacks and eight forced punts (the Badgers are forcing eight punts a game, after all). Then Gordon gets the ball to start the second half and the Badgers pull away.
It's not going to get the Badgers many style points, but I don't think they're about to be tripped up with Nebraska coming next week.