In this weekly installment, here are three items that I think we learned about the Badgers after their game Saturday.
Diversifying the running attack
While there were some issues that hindered the Wisconsin offense (I’ll touch on that later), Joe Rudolph and Paul Chryst made an effort to shake some things up for the Wisconsin running game. The adjustments worked well, as the Badgers ran for a season high 403 yards on the ground even without starting left tackle Cole Van Lanen.
Wisconsin used a lot of pre-snap jet sweep motion to deceive the Purdue defense. While this has been used effectively in the past, this year included, their appeared to be a higher usage rate against the Boilermakers. This motion complicated the look for Purdue, and allowed Jonathan Taylor to run for 223 yards on the day. Chryst also dialed up jet sweeps with Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor which resulted in 66 yards, albeit 49 of them came on one carry by Pryor.
The wrinkle that veered most heavily from the norm for the Badgers though was the use of the wildcat. Wisconsin has now employed the wildcat on multiple occasions this season, but against Purdue used both Aron Cruickshank and Garrett Groshek at quarterback. Both players had solid rushing games, as Cruickshank toted the rock three times for 47 yards and touchdown, while Groshek had nine carries for 55 yards and a touchdown.
With a big contest against the Minnesota Golden Gophers upcoming, the rushing creativity will need to continue as snow is in the forecast for next Saturday.
Wildcat formation with Aron Cruickshank and Jonathan Taylor sharing the backfield? That has big play written all over it.— George Balekji NBC15 (@GeorgeBalekji) November 23, 2019
27-yards later, Wisconsin lead. pic.twitter.com/zFuDUAOmmc
Margin of error
Wisconsin struggled to hold on to the ball on Saturday. On the day, Wisconsin had five fumbles, three of which were lost. Jack Coan also severely under threw a deep pass intended for a wide open Quintez Cephus that was intercepted. The four turnovers were a season high, and it unfortunately adds to a growing trend.
In the first six games, in which Wisconsin was undefeated, the offense only turned the ball over a total of five times. During that same timeframe, the Badger defense forced 14 turnovers. That plus-nine turnover margin was good for one of the top spots in the country.
Since the Michigan State game the Badgers have flipped the script in the wrong direction. In the past five games Wisconsin has turned the ball over 12 times, and have only generated four takeaways of their own.
While Wisconsin is losing the turnover battle, 4-1 (3 fumbles, 1 interception), Purdue has only been able to turn one of those turnovers into points.— Bucky's 5th Axe Retrieval Unit (@B5Q) November 23, 2019
Points-off-turnovers is even, at 7-7.
This huge swing in turnover margin brings about reason for concern. While the Purdue game has no bearing on the results moving forward, four turnovers is unacceptable, and Wisconsin was lucky that Purdue wasn’t able to convert those opportunities into points more often. Wisconsin will need to clean up some carelessness with the football in order to win next weekend.
The first three drives were like a nightmare for the Wisconsin defense. Purdue threw out the kitchen sink with trick plays, and the Wisconsin secondary bit on all of them.
On those first three drives, Purdue scored 17 points in 10 minutes of time of possession. The Boilermakers rolled up 204 yards of offense in that time-span, while the Wisconsin defense looked lost at times in the secondary.
Fans will note that the Wisconsin defense has played relatively poorly during the past few games, showing glaring moments of vulnerably both against the run and the pass.
Wisconsin's defense has really shown up in this game, following the Wright-to-Hopkins touchdown.— Bucky's 5th Axe Retrieval Unit (@B5Q) November 23, 2019
Forcing three punts and one interception on the following four drives.
One positive to glean from the Purdue game was the ability to stop the bleeding. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard made adjustments that ultimately helped the Badgers rally to win by three scores after falling behind early.
Last week against Nebraska, that wasn’t the case. The Cornhuskers were able to move the ball well all game long with 493 yards of offense.
While the early defensive struggle was notably, and mirrored the past few games, it was also encouraging to see adjustments happen to turn the game around. With a Minnesota team that has tremendous wide receivers, and a better quarterback distributing the ball than Purdue, Wisconsin will need to make some adjustments and get creative this week in preparation.