The newly minted No. 12 (CFP) Wisconsin Badgers (8-2 overall, 5-2 B1G) have their final home game of the season against the struggling and injury-depleted Purdue Boilermakers (4-6 overall, 3-4 B1G) on Saturday afternoon.
Purdue is without many of their top players and have been winning games on the back of a fourth string, walk-on quarterback. If they weren’t playing the Badgers this weekend I’d be cheering wildly for them to pull the upset.
Travis Miller of our SB Nation cousins Hammer and Rails was kind enough to take some time and answer our questions before the B1G West clash this weekend.
1) If Rondale Moore doesn’t play who should the Badgers defense be focused on as a playmaker?
David Bell has had a great season, and when Moore is back the Purdue passing offense is going to be lethal. Bell has been Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times this season. His first catch was a long TD at Nevada. He hasn’t put up quite the same numbers as Rondale did last year, but that is because those numbers were otherworldly.
Bell has been one of the best receivers in America and should be First Team All-Big Ten as a freshman. We have some other promising young receivers like Milton Wright and Amad Anderson, but Bell has been special.
2) What, if any, insight can you give us on the Boilers injury situation? Is anyone who hasn’t played these past few games going to suit up?
It has been enormous. For most of the season Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore have been out as the two best offensive players and Lorenzo Neal and Markus Bailey have been out as the two best defensive guys. Bailey is done for the year and played just two games. Sindelar is likely done for the year. Neal hasn’t played a snap and may not play one. He is a senior, but never used his redshirt and could return next year. The loss of Moore has been huge. He might return Saturday, but it is doubtful.
Those are the biggest injuries, but there are so many more. Tario Fuller was expected to start at running back, but broke his jaw in camp and missed several weeks. He returned, but has lost a lot of weight and has played sparingly. Starting center Viktor Beach is out. Safety Marvin Grant is out. Receiver Jared Sparks has missed a lot. We entered the season with just 20 scholarship juniors and seniors. At one point or another eight have been out. That means a lot of freshmen are playing. They are good and will get better, but it will take time.
3) Who (non-Jonathan Taylor division) are you worried about on the Wisconsin offense? Same question for the defense.
Danny Davis III had those two fourth quarter TDs from Coan that tied last year’s game. Chris Orr and Zack Baun with 19.5 sack between them are very concerning with our offensive line and a walk-on QB playing.
4) Who is an under-the-radar player for Purdue that Badger fans should mention to their friends at the bar to sound smart?
George Karlaftis. The true freshman defensive end is a star in the making and is going to be very good in the future. He leads the team with six sacks and has a ton of QB pressures. Give him another year and he is going to be a nightmare off the edge.
5) Looking ahead to next season, what is a reasonable win total for Jeff Brohm and Purdue to show progress and keep the wolves at bay? Or, does everyone understand that injuries took over this season and next year is a clean slate?
I think everyone sees the injuries and youth as a clean slate. Brohm has another solid recruiting class lined up. The start of next season is interesting with the opener being at Nebraska, followed by Memphis and then triple option danger in Air Force at home.
My biggest complaint against Brohm is his struggle to beat teams he should beat. In 2017 it was Rutgers and Nebraska. In 2018 it was Eastern Michigan. This year it was Nevada. The recruiting has improved dramatically (the 2019 and 2020 classes are top-30 after years in the 60s). The Ohio State win last year was epic. The recovery from the Hazell era, which was outright Rutgersian, was incredible, but it is time to take the next step.
I feel like Brohm got paid because he did something with pretty much nothing those first two years and to secure the 2019 recruiting class, which was transformational. This year felt like it could be a step back and with injuries, that hasn’t helped. The Nevada game still stings because that was and should have been a win, and right now is the difference between having bowl hopes next week and likely not.
Next year needs to be a 7-8 win season before what could be a very big 2021.
6) Who wins? What’s the score? Who are your offensive and defensive MVPs of the game?
Taylor is going to run wild. We cannot stop him. Last year we should have gone for two in the second OT because there was no way we were stopping him in the third OT. One play to win it or lose it without him on the field was the better shot (aside from not blowing a two TD lead with eight minutes left).
As happy as I am with Aidan O’Connell’s play so far at QB, your defense is a much different animal than Nebraska or Northwestern. He has exceeded every expectation so far, but he is still a fourth string walk on QB that needed a perfect storm of injuries just to see the field. Maybe I am wrong and he plays out of his mind Saturday, but asking him to go in and win at Camp Randall is a very tall order.
He has been a great story so far though with consecutive game winning drives in the final two minutes. Even Drew Brees never did that. Beating Wisconsin would be something out of a sports movie.