After suffering a brutal, last-second 32-30 defeat at Sun Devil Stadium over the weekend, Wisconsin returns home to Madison and the hospitable confines of Camp Randall Stadium -- and Big Ten officials -- for the opener of Big Ten play.
The first conference foe for Gary Andersen and his Badgers is the Purdue Boilermakers (1-2), who come into Madison after a strong showing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last weekend. While Purdue didn't end up defeating last year's runners-up, it showed much improvement on both sides of the ball compared to its first two games of the year (42-7 loss at Cincinnati, 20-14 win vs Indiana State).
Before the two schools begin their conference slates, here are three things to know about the Boilermakers.
The buck stops here
Often times, one can tell how a given team performs on offense by looking at a key statistic: third-down conversion rate. Last season, the Boilermakers were sixth in the BIg Ten in third-down conversion percentage as they converted 39.9 percent of their third-down plays on their way to a 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten) record.
So far this season, Purdue is next-to-last in the Big Ten in third-down conversions having failed to convert 65.9 percent of its third-downs -- a number nevertheless helped tremendously by a strong showing against Notre Dame. Before going 7-of-16 last week, Purdue had a 28-percent third-down conversion rate against two unranked opponents. Things won't get any easier for the Boilermakers as the Badgers ranked third in the Big Ten last year in opponent third-down conversion percentage (32.5 percent).
On the other side of the ball, the Boilermakers aren't that much more efficient on third-down, as their defense allowed opponents to convert at a rate of 41 percent last year (10th in the Big Ten) and so far this year have allowed a conversion rate of 51.1 percent (last in the Big Ten).
After the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, junior linebacker Sean Robinson told JConline's Boilerstation:
What kills you on defense is mistakes. Some of them might have been physical, and some of it might have been mental.
The Boilermakers cannot afford to make any mistakes -- mental or physical -- because so far in Andersen's tenure at Wisconsin, the Badgers are posting the second-best third-down conversion rate in the Big Ten (56.1 percent). If they can take advantage of what is a glaring weakness in Purdue's arsenal, they should start their Big Ten season off with a victory.
More of the same... or is it?
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Badgers have yet to face a stingy rush defense. Melvin Gordon has rushed for three consecutive 100-yard games for the first time in his career and James White and Corey Clement both rushed for 100 yards in the first two games.
In 2012, the Boilermakers ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rush defense, and in the Badgers' 38-14 victory in West Lafayette, Purdue could not stop the run. Montee Ball ran for a career high 247 yards and scored three touchdowns, while James White added 124 yards of his own in the Oct. 13th meeting in which the Badgers racked up a total of 645 yards (467 on the ground).
This season, however, the Boilermakers are determined to stop the run. In three games, Purdue has held its opponents to under 100 yards twice and under 40 yards once. In the lone game in which they gave up over 100 yards -- 221 yards to Cincinnati -- there was still no 100-yard rusher. They held Notre Dame to just 91 yards on 31 carries, good for an average of 2.9 yards per rush.
There's no doubt the Boilermakers will have their hands full with the three-headed monster that is the Badger backfield, but in the early stages of the 2013 season they have shown that they are capable of defending the run. If Purdue is able to continue to show improvement in its run defense, the Badgers may find themselves in a dogfight that few see coming.
You can't spell Wisconsin without W-I-N
Wisconsin owns Purdue. Plain and simple. The Badgers hold an all-time 43-29-8 advantage over the Boilermakers and a with a win on Saturday, the Badgers would extend their winning streak over Purdue to eight in a row. If accomplished, the streak would be the longest for either side in the 80-game history.
The key for the Badgers is separating themselves from the Boilermakers from the get-go. In games decided by less than three points in this series, Purdue actually holds a 6-4 advantage; in games decided by less than seven, the Badgers only hold a slight 16-10 edge.
In the past three meetings, Wisconsin has outscored Purdue by an average of 30 points and are currently experiencing their most successful decade scoring-wise in series history. Prior to 2010, Wisconsin never averaged more than 26.5 points per game over a decade, but now -- admittedly only in the fourth year of the decade -- the Badgers are averaging 44.7.
Despite the Arizona State loss, the important record right now is 0-0 because conference play has not yet begun. If the Badgers are to return to Pasadena, that journey will have to start this week.