It is hard to find a comparison to how I am feeling about having tickets to Purdue football this weekend. Normally, I can't wait until Saturday and a chance to head to West Lafayette. Those seven fall Saturdays are often some of my favorite days of the year. I get a chance to head back to campus and enjoy some of my favorite aspects of being a student. One of the very few times where I really wasn't looking forward to it was last year's Ohio State game, when the last thing I expected was the upset I saw that day.
As bad as I felt going to that game, at least we had the precedent that Purdue had played hard and was a dangerous team. Given the way it challenged Oregon and blew games against Northwestern, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, and Minnesota with its own mistakes, a Purdue victory was at least possible. This weekend, with a physically dominant Wisconsin Badgers team coming to town, I feel less excited than I did last year. I traveled to the game in Madison, when a better team than what we currently have got shoved around and was never even close to scoring.
As surprising as least season's win over the Buckeyes was, a victory this Saturday would have to be 10 times more surprising. These guys dominated us physically in a way I have rarely seen. We've produced virtually nothing the last two weeks against similar tough defenses. I would honestly be shocked if we're within two touchdowns at the end.
2009 Record: 10-3, 5-3 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Beat Miami (FL) in Champs Sports Bowl 20-14
Blog Representation: Bucky's 5th Quarter
Series With Purdue: Wisconsin leads 39-29-8
Last Purdue win 10/18/2003 at Wisconsin 26-23
Last Wisconsin win: 10/31/2009 at Wisconsin 37-0
You can see the numbers above, and they are far from encouraging. John Clay will likely pass 1,000 yards for the season in this game. James White is an excellent second option. Montee Ball can be a dangerous player, and this doesn't even factor in that we couldn't stop Lance Kendricks on sweeps last year. Scott Tolzien didn't have to do a whole lot in the passing game, and as long as their offensive line shows up I doubt he'll have to do much again this year.
That offensive line of Gabe Carimi, Ricky Wagner, John Moffitt, Kevin Zeitler, and Peter Konz may be the biggest we have faced all season. All five players are at least 6'4" with the smallest being Konz at 6'5" 313. As much as Ryan Kerrigan has done for us, they should be able to slow him down as well as Kawann Short, who has played very well. Gerald Gooden has been disappointing, leading to more playing time for Robert Maci of late. Maci and Bruce Gaston have played well, but this is a daunting challenge.
Our best bet to slow them down is to put seven or eight men in the box and dare Tolzien to throw. As you can see though, he spreads the ball around very well. Ricardo Allen will likely draw Kendricks, but if we continue to have open receivers wandering across the middle of the field, especially on third down, it likely won't matter much anyway.
I am encouraged that we did well against Mikel Leshoure last week. Tolzein is not as mobile as Nathan Scheelhaase, but Ball, Clay, and White will be very difficult to stop. I would rather sell out everything and make Tolzein beat us with his arm than have Clay rolling over us. Unfortunately, he is a 71% passer that doesn't make mistakes. Unless we force him into mistakes and get at least three turnovers somehow I don't see us slowing them down. Even with our run defense looking better at times we still can't stop people on third down with any regularity.
This is the real reason that I see us having very little chance on Saturday. Last season's game was marred by a ton of dropped passes. We managed only three points in the game before that against the Badgers, and that was in 2006. That means we have scored three points in the last five years, and this will be the worst offense we have sent against them in that time.
It's bad enough that Wisconsin is #2 in scoring in the Big Ten. We're dead last. On averages alone they double us up at 36-18. The Badgers also feature a defense that is #3 in the conference against the run and #4 against the pass. Even if our own defense plays a perfect game, I don't think we can score enough against them to steal a win.
J.J. Watt is their Kerrigan with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He is also active in the pass defense by batting down passes like Short. If Sean Robinson gets the start he must be aware of where Watt is at all times. Louis Nzegwu, Patrick Butrym, and Jordan Kohout are also capable of getting to the quarterback.
The pass defense is anchored by Jay Valai, though they only have five team interceptions on the year. Valai is an excellent safety that can play against the run as well as the pass. Blake Sorenson, who also leads the team in tackles, has a pair of interceptions, as does Antoni Fenelus. The good news is that we did not throw a pick last week, but that was mostly because we didn't throw much. Wisconsin has 33 pass breakups and 38 passes defenses, so they do just fine without getting a ton of interceptions.
Culmer St. John and Sorenson lead the linebackers as both player have at least 46 tackles for the season. This is a defense that is not filled with superstars that have gaudy staistics, but they are very business-like in their approach. They don't have a hgue weakness, and that means they should have little trouble slowing us down unless Purdue shows something we haven't seen all season.
Wisconsin Special Teams:
Brad Nortman is averaging 43.4 yards per punt, so like Anthony Santella last week, we should be ready for booming kicks. Waynelle Gravesande nearly double our punt return yards for the season with a 15 yard return last week, so I don't expect the return game to be a factor once again.
David Gilreath is a danger on kickoff returns, averaging 25+ yards with a touchdown already. Of course, this won't matter if we don't score anyway. Jared Abbrederis will handle punt return duties and averages nearly 10 yards per return.
First, here are some key notes from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
Freshman running back James White has been limited in practice, and tight end Lance Kendricks' sprained ankle is still bothering him, according to Madison.com. White is expected to miss this Saturday's game with Purdue, but Kendricks could still see action.
The coaching staff seems to be making some changes this week. Sean Robinson is getting more time with the number 1's, and that should help. I think he can settle in and improve the passing game if given time as the guy. Al-Terek McBurse is also practicing at slot receiver, something that is unexpected, but he is a guy that needs the ball in space. Since we're down to basically him or me at slot receiver, I don't see where it can hurt. I think we'll see Robinson at quarterback, Rob Henry at running back, and more of players like Gary Bush, Gabe Holmes, Xavier Reese, and Antavian Edison lining up at receiver.
To have any chance we need to at least have the threat of the pass. We don't have the speed to make sweeps work, but the read-option with Henry can have some success. By lining him at running back we can show a new wrinkle or two by at least making him throw once or twice.
Unfortunately, I am far from encouraged. David Alt, the father of recruit visiting this weekend by the name of Tyler Alt, e-mailed me this week asking about the campus and game day atmosphere. It is my hope we can be accomodating this weekend for this promising defensive end propect in 2012. The kid is very interested in Purdue despite being recruited by some bigger names, so we need to show him something that makes an impression. This is an opportunity to make an impression on the Tyler Alt's of the world.
Will there be improvement this weekend? Will we see something that at least gives us hope in beating Michigan and Indiana? Only the players can answer those questions.