This week the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Purdue Boilermakers in Camp Randall. The Badgers have won 15 straight against Purdue, but is this the year the Boilermakers snap the streak? We asked our friends over at Hammer and Rails to get an insider's perspective on all things Purdue.
Purdue comes into this game losing 15 straight games to Wisconsin. How much-added motivation do you think that gives them in this contest?
I know some Purdue fans have argued we don’t need this one as long as we win the last four because that would still give us the West, but don’t put me in that group. It is safe to say that Wisconsin has been the bully against us for nearly two decades. It’s always the same, too: A talented running back behind a monstrous offensive line plowing the way, with the occasional jet sweep or play-action pass mixed in. Even last year when Graham Mertz effectively did nothing except two early 3rd down conversions and hand the ball off Wisconsin won easily.
As a fan, we need this game. We need to prove we can finally beat Wisconsin. To me, it feels like men’s basketball for us with a Final Four. I won’t believe it can happen until it actually does. Even now on a four-game win streak, I am still definitely a Purdue fan. My attitude is more of “Great, when will this fall apart” instead of enjoyment.
If the streak doesn’t motivate them, a chance at the Big Ten title will as they sit atop the West along with Illinois. How have the Boilermakers gotten to this point?
Honestly, we should probably be a little further. This team is two plays from being 7-0, but also a handful of plays from being 1-6. The only game that has been comfortable was the 56-0 blowout of Indiana State. We should have beaten Penn State if not for a late first-half fumble and extremely poor tackling on the following touchdown. That was a 10-point swing. A rash of penalties after taking the lead with 52 seconds left at Syracuse set the Orange up with a much shorter field for their winning TD with 7 seconds left.
Of course, you can go the other way too. We only survived Maryland and Florida Atlantic because we stopped late two-point conversions. Minnesota was a 10-10 game with 5 minutes left (and we were probably lucky Mo Ibrahim didn’t play). Last week against Nebraska was much too close for comfort because the offense dominated, but Trey Palmer kept making huge plays. If we don’t convert a 4th and 2 at midfield with about 2 minutes left the Cornhuskers get the ball one more time.
We definitely have a shot in the West and that game against Illinois is looming large, especially with Iowa being completely inert on offense and both Northwestern and Indiana being Northwestern and Indiana. I am still worried about the Badgers because again, you guys have been our bullies for a long time. Even beating a struggling Wisconsin team would feel huge.
The Big Ten is littered with quarterbacks that seem to have been around forever. Aidan O’Connell feels like one of them. How has he progressed this year?
I think AOC has mostly stayed hot from last year. He has been banged up a bit and missed the FAU game with an injury, but he continues to spread the ball around while having a favorite target on almost every play in Charlie Jones. He is statistically the most accurate passer in Purdue history and aside from one or two bad throws (i.e., a brutal pick-6 to a defensive tackle at Syracuse) he has been great. He has even been a little bit better in scrambling, as he has had a couple of big conversions with his legs. That 4th and 2 I mentioned above? The play broke down and he was able to get it with his legs. He is far from being Lamar Jackson, but he is at least a slightly mobile statue now.
Wisconsin has had some trouble with the pass this year, and Purdue loves to chuck it around. Who are some playmakers Wisconsin should be on the lookout for?
Charlie Jones has been the envy of every Iowa fan. In just seven games at Purdue, he has put up bigger numbers than his entire Iowa career. He is AOC’s favored target and so far has been one of the most productive receivers in the country. Tight End Payne Durham has also been big, and he made a series of big plays that helped win the game at Maryland. He also had the go-ahead TD at Syracuse that should have been the difference.
What’s amazing is that AOC has done all this while Broc Thompson, our projected top receiver, has missed every game except the opener. Thompson is the guy who had the monster bowl game against Tennessee despite dealing with double knee injuries. He has been slowed since week 1, but he might return this week.
Finally, we have a real, live-running game! Redshirt freshman walk-on Devin Mockobee just won Big Ten Freshman of the week and has exploded onto the scene. He didn’t play in the opener and got mop-up minutes against Indiana State, but with King Doerue and Dylan Downing both battling injuries Mockobee has thrived. He is a former state champion in the long jump and hurdles, so he has a good burst while being elusive. He went over 100 yards against Minnesota and Nebraska, and had over 200 yards from scrimmage last week. He had originally committed to Navy, but took a preferred walk-on spot at Purdue and now we can’t keep him off the field.
It seems like some weeks Purdue’s defense has been really solid, and other weeks it disappears. What have been the strengths and weaknesses of this unit?
The run defense has been really good and (hopefully) will stay there. It contained an excellent running back in Sean Tucker for Syracuse and bottled up a good Minnesota running game (albeit one that did not have Mo Ibrahim). Only Syracuse QB Garrett Shrader and FAU QB N’Kosi Perry had any success running the ball. Purdue has not had a running back go over 50 yards against it yet, which is astonishing to me.
The secondary has been feast or famine though. It has made some very big plays with 10 interceptions and has even taken two back for touchdowns, but it has also given up some big plays. All Purdue had to do was tackle on the final play of the first half against Penn State and it doesn’t give up a TD. In fact, in the final minute of halves Purdue has been very, very bad defensively. It gave up touchdowns in the final minute of both halves against Penn State and Maryland, a TD with 7 seconds left at Syracuse, and a field goal in the last 35 seconds last week.
Oh, and Trey Palmer absolutely smoked Purdue last week. I believe he had at least four plays of 50 yards or more, and he had damn near 300 yards from scrimmage. He is the sole reason the game was even close. It really feels like our secondary is just as likely to make a big play as give one up.
What concerns you most about Wisconsin in this contest?
The fact that it is Wisconsin. That’s enough to concern me after 15 straight losses, especially when only two or three of those games were even competitive. It doesn’t matter if it is Braelon Allen, Jonathan Taylor, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon, or any other running back you guys have. I expect him to rush for about 200 yards and three scores behind 1600 pounds of the offensive line that grinds us into fine powder. Graham Mertz completed just five passes last year and y’all still won by 17. We know what is coming every year. We have had five different coaches during this 15 years streak and we still haven’t broken it.
Is this the year Purdue snaps the streak? Why or why not? Score prediction?
It feels a bit like basketball did this past year. I felt like if Purdue couldn’t make a Final Four with the talent, depth, and experience we had, it would never happen. It was the most anticipated season in school history and probably the most disappointing one because not only did we miss the Final Four, we didn’t even win the Big Ten because of four buzzer-beater losses. We won 29 games, but accomplished nothing and were once again the team history happens against in March.
That’s what Saturday feels like. Purdue is far from perfect, but it is playing some really good football right now and a win would mark our first five game winning streak in 15 years. I am aware this is not a strong Wisconsin team. It feels like our best chance in ages to end it, but we should have ended it in 2018 by going for 2 in the second OT with Taylor safely on the sidelines. If we can’t do it this year, when will we do it?
I am still picking you guys to win because I have seen this game too many times. Allen goes for 250 and three scores as the Badgers win.