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Wisconsin vs. Purdue: Q&A with Hammer And Rails

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Travis Miller from SB Nation's Purdue site, Hammer and Rails, stops by to preview Saturday's game and tell us how Boiler fans have been surviving yet another disappointing season.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
1. What's the feeling around Purdue fans about this game? Any feelings of optimism, or are they buying into the Boilermakers as the heavy underdogs here?

Well, we have been playing well in Big Ten play. Even though we are 1-4 in the league we're at least competitive this year, which could not really be said last season. That said, Purdue fans are well aware of how dominant the Badgers have been against Purdue. From my Wednesday preview:

Purdue has failed to score more than 20 points against Wisconsin since the 26-23 win in Madison in 2003, while the Badgers have scored at least 31 in six of the last seven contests. In fact, since The Fumble Purdue has led just twice. They led at 7-0, for less than three minutes, in 2012. Caleb Terbush scored on a 1-yard keeper with 14:22 left in the first quarter in 2012. The lead lasted for two minutes and 18 seconds before the Badgers scored to tie it, starting a 38-0 run that wasn't answered until Akeem Hunt broke an 81-yard TD with 1:39 left in the game.The other game was the 2010 game, where Purdue led 10-6 at halftime behind Sean Robinson at QB (he is now a linebacker) before getting blown out.

So yeah, it has been bad. Purdue hasn't just lost to the Badgers a lot, it hasn't even been close to a victory most of the time. The 2005 game, which was tied 10-10 at halftime, is the only one in which the Boilers were even competitive beyond halftime. An unlikely Purdue victory would represent a stunning turnaround in this series.

No team has dominated us like the Badgers. We have not had an answer for the power run game for some time and until we do, it won't change.

2. What should Wisconsin fans know about Purdue's offense in terms of style, scheme, personnel, etc.?

Well, this year we actually have an offense, which is a welcome addition after last year's terrible performance. The Boilers were historically bad last season on offense. The running game was so bad that, as a team, it would have ranked a distant third behind James White and Melvin Gordon on Wisconsin with only 805 total yards.

We run mostly a pro-style that has been far more successful on the ground with seniors Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Both are speed backs with the ability to break any run with a little space. Mostert is also an excellent kickoff return and Purdue's all-time best. He set the single-game record in the 2011 game for kickoff return yards (though giving up 62 points meant a lot of chances) and he is the reigning Big Ten champion in the 60, 100 and 200.

The receivers have been inconsistent and Austin Appleby has been solid, but not the bombs-away type of QB that Joe Tiller made famous. Danny Anthrop was Purdue's most consistent receiver and is now out for the year after injuring his ACL last week against Nebraska. Wisconsin will likely see Cameron Posey, last year's top receiver, fill in for him and freshmen Trae Hart and Gregory Phillips could play more.

Finally, the offensive line is much, much better. Last season, Purdue gave up the most sacks and had the worst running game in the Big Ten. This year, we can actually open a few holes and protect the quarterback from time to time. I know it isn't much, but trust me, last year the entire offense was historically bad. Being merely competent it is a huge improvement.

3. And what about the defense?

Right now, it is banged up. We're not getting much of a pass rush, but we have been hit-or-miss in defending the run. The run defense was pretty good against a good Nebraska offense last week, but two special teams mistakes led to 14 points and a turnover on downs deep in our own territory late led to seven more. At times when the offense has been humming, the defense has been bad, especially on third down.

It is a very young defense. Our linebackers are two freshmen and a sophomore (with true freshman middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley playing with a broken hand this week), but they are probably the best we have had in a very long time at the position. They have learned quickly, especially after seniors Joe Gilliam and Sean Robinson tore their ACLs. Up front, we're still young except for Ryan Russell, who has been a tad disappointing this year.

In the secondary, Landon Feichter and Frankie Williams have been solid safeties with a combined seven interceptions, but Williams got a concussion last week and may not play this week. The front seven is going to have to play like it did last week and against Iowa (before wearing down in the fourth quarter) to have a chance. I am also excited to see if Gelen Robinson (the Big Dog's other son) gets some more time this week at rush end.

4. Is this a big game for Purdue? Will there be a beyond-normal crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium for this one?

I think so. People are encouraged and it is our last chance to beat a good team this year. I don't expect a win, but if the Boilers spring a surprise, suddenly a bowl game is very possible since we get to finish with Northwestern and Indiana. It has been an odd season. Every pre-season prediction said we would over-achieve to be 3-6 right now, but with the way things have played out, Purdue could be 6-3. Everything went wrong against Central Michigan and the team has improved greatly since then. The Iowa game was the last one with Danny Etling at QB. Purdue led 10-0 at one point and was tied 10-10 entering the fourth quarter, but the offense and Etling had an awful day. Many people feel it would have been different if Appleby had played earlier. Then there is Minnesota, where a dumb late penalty on 3rd-and-long kept their field goal drive alive.

So yeah, Purdue has overachieved, still has a bad record, but is better than 3-6, if that makes sense. People would love to see us break through, but I am realistic. You guys have flat out owned us for a decade now. I am not going to believe we're not going to get crushed until I see it.

5. Do you have a prediction?

Pain. Gordon running crazy like he did last year and Montee Ball before him. Wisconsin rolling up 400 yards on the ground and not even needing to pass. We're better, but we have struggled so much with Wisconsin I don't have any confidence.