Wisconsin looks to continue the momentum captured after a thrilling, game-winning 46-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone with under 10 seconds left in a 23-21 win against Nebraska last Saturday. Joel Stave threw for over 300 yards, while running back Dare Ogunbowale and wide receiver Alex Erickson gained over 100 yards rushing and receiving, respectively.
Purdue comes in stumbling after a disappointing 41-13 loss to Minnesota last week -- that after giving Michigan State a run for its money to open conference play.
Purdue comes at, though the Boilermakers seemed to play up to Michigan State a couple of weeks back. Then they gave up 41 points to Minnesota.
What's been the overall theme of the Boilermakers' season so far?
The phrase "hot mess" is thrown around a lot. Against Bowling Green, Marshall, and Michigan State Purdue really hurt itself with turnovers and penalties. A penalty called back a critical pick-6 in the fourth quarter against Bowling Green and several penalties helped their game winning drive. Austin Appleby threw two pick-sixes in a 10 point loss at Marshall, including one on the first play of the season.
Last week against Minnesota the offense stalled after the opening drive and the defense fell completely apart in the third quarter. Purdue trailed only 10-6 at halftime, but thanks to a disaster of a third quarter (including another pick 6, as Purdue has given up four defensive and one special teams TD) it was down 38-6 coming out of it.
So yes, much of the wounds are self-inflicted. Purdue seems to either turn the ball over or commit a dumb penalty at the worst time. Last week was especially frustrating because Minnesota has a limited offense and had a ton of injuries, yet Purdue got blown out playing at home.
Purdue ranks 89th in total offense and David Blough has taken over as starter at quarterback since the Bowling Green game.
Has Blough helped the offense, and what does he bring to the table compared to Purdue's other QBs?
He has helped a little. He is a bit more mobile and seems to make better reads than Appleby, but the fear is that he is progressing down the same path as previous quarterbacks under offensive coordinator John Shoop. Predecessors Danny Etling and Appleby started out strong, but a few games in they were staring down receivers and the offense was stalling out.
Again, Purdue's biggest problem is turnovers. This is a team that cannot find any offensive consistency for an entire game. It can put together a few quarters and is far better than two years ago, but it always seems as if a single mistake is waiting to unravel everything.
True freshman running back Markell Jones leads the Boilermakers with 412 rushing yards.
Who are the playmakers the Badgers need to account for?
Jones is very good, so naturally, the super genius that is John Shoop, barely played him last week. He was only coming off of a game where he ran for 157 yards and two scores against one of the best defenses in America. Why would we play him?
And there is your problem. The coaching staff is not getting the right guys, or even the hot guys, in the right spots. Many people thought Blough should have been the starter from day 1, but we gave Appleby a pass because he did have experience to Blough's none. Then Appleby threw four interceptions against Marshall. Jones has been excellent and set Indiana HS records last year, but D.J. Knox, who is decent, continues to start and got most of the carries last week.
Shoops and Hazell both talked a lot about having Knox and Jones carrying the offense, but then we got to an inconsistent passing game. Last week was the perfect time to use both Knox and Jones because the Boilers had a 6-0 or 6-3 lead for much of the first half. Instead of letting those two carry the load we saw bizarre playcalls. We almost always run straight intot he teeth of the defense and Shoop & Co. wonder why we're not gaining more yards.
Purdue ranks 100th in total defense (110th in rushing defense, giving up 215 yards per game).
What's ailed the defense this season, and who could give Wisconsin trouble?
The biggest problem the defense has had under Hazell is that the offense has been so bad that they are left on the field for far too long. Another problem is the scheming. There is little blitzing and against a team like Bowling Green we were giving 10-yard cushions all day that they were happy to take as free yards. It is also not using the right guys. Antoine Miles leads the team with four sacks, but is slowing getting phased out of the offense despite playing well early on. Many fans are wondering if these guys have any clue of what they are doing.
For good measure we have a dose of injuries too. Ja'Whaun Bentley, a true difference maker at middle linebacker and best linebacker we have had in a decade, tore his ACL last week in practice. Surprisingly, they have said he may be able to play with a brace, but that should tell you something when Purdue's best defender is a guy playing at its most important position with a torn ACL.
Oh, and if our players can stop breaking the law (Gelen Robinson, David Rose, Evyn Cooper, Wyatt Cooper, and Chazmyn Turner are all defenders that have had an arrested this year) it would be nice.
What are your keys to the game, and your prediction?
Can Wisconsin come down with dysentery? Maybe they get locked in the locker room and can't get out? The badgers have been nothing but pain and misery for Purdue since "The Fumble." That is through three coaching staffs now. Often the Badgers can run with impunity and Purdue is completely and utterly unprepared to stop it. I predict more of the same as Wisconsin rolls to an easy win behind at least 300 yards rushing.