Know Thy Opponent 2011: Wisconsin Badgers

I am sure the Boiled Sports guys will argue with me on this, but I have recently been accused of not being optimistic and impartial enough in regards to the 2011 football season. Several people on the GBI boards have been upset that I have only predicted four wins in the first eight games in the 2011 season. Normally I am as starry-eyed and gung ho as any Purdue partisan, but after seeing what happened last year it is hard for me to get excited.

Last season we had an offense that struggled mightily even when healthy. This year we lack proven receivers and the coaching staff seems hell bent on a quarterback rotation when Robert Marve has been proven to struggle in such a system. Even then, only the Illinois game can truly be considered a swing game at this point. Our past history in Ann Arbor does not fill me with confidence, and most of us can agree that beating Penn State or Notre Dame would be considered a solid upset.

That said, I still think a bowl is possible. Going into the Wisconsin game I think a 4-4 record (or better) is a solid probability unless something catastrophic happens. That means we would need two wins at most in the final four games to reach bowl eligibility. Indiana should be one, and I think Iowa is a winnable game at home. Getting a win in Madison is a stretch.

The Badgers come in to 2011 as one of the Big Ten favorites, and rightfully so considering they ended last season in Pasadena. This team has consistently pushed us around from a physical standpoint for years, culminating in the 37-0 beatdown two years ago that I personally witnessed. The only thing we did right that day was kick the opening kickoff for a touchback. While last year's game was a bit of surprise in West Lafayette (we led at halftime) this year's contest has the potential to be the most lopsided of the 2011 season.

2010 Record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten (Big Ten tri-champs)

Bowl Result: Lost to TCU 21-19 in Rose Bowl

Blog Representation: Bucky's 5th Quarter

Series With Purdue: Wisconsin leads 40-29-8

Last Purdue win 10/18/2003 at Wisconsin 26-23

Last Wisconsin win: 11/6/2010 at Purdue 34-13

Last Season for the Badgers

There can be few complaints with an 11-2 season that ends in the Rose Bowl. The only losses were a 34-24 setback at Michigan State (and the Spartans shared the Big Ten title with them) and a 21-19 loss to an undefeated TCU team that would have been in the BCS title game had Oregon or Auburn stumbled. There is no shame in losing to the Horned Frogs or the Spartans.

The rest of the year saw a surprisingly strong Wisconsin offense roll up a ton of points in a few games. Wisconsin dropped 70 on Northwestern in the regular season finale and an astounding 83 on Indiana. They also had 70 against Austin Peay. Their 223 points scored in those three games alone nearly equaled our 12 game total of 236 points. Somehow, we managed to lead them 10-6 at halftime before being outscored 28-3 in the second half.

It's entirely possible that Wisconsin will be undefeated by this point in the season. Their toughest non-conference game is at home against Oregon State and they host Nebraska in their Big Ten opener. Road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State could be tricky. We're the one home game in the midst of four road games.

Wisconsin Offense

Normally I would say that we're getting the typical power running game managed by a quarterback that is asked not to screw things up when tasked to throw. That could change this year with former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson making a one-year-only appearance in Madison. Wilson had 3,563 yards passing with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year for the Wolfpack. He completed 308 passes against 527 attempts for a solid 58.4% completion percentage. He replaces Scott Tolzien, who was 21-5 as a starter and won the Unitas Award last year. He's also a dangerous runner with 435 yards and nine touchdowns at NC State last season. He comes in with over 8.500 yards passing in his career and over 1,000 on the ground

His running ability will only make a strong running game even better. Wisconsin had 48 rushing TD's in 2010, second only to Nevada with 52. Montee Ball (996 yards, 18 TD's) and James White (1,052 yards, 14 TD's) provide plenty of experience even with John Clay (1,012-14) gone. The Badgers were just four yards short of having three 1,000 yard rushers last year. By comparison, Purdue has only had 11 1,000 rushing seasons in 124 years of Boilermaker football. In short, Wisconsin will run the ball whenever they damn well feel like it. Jeff Lewis and Melvin Gordon also both add an element of speed in the backfield as newcomers.

Wilson should have some solid options in the passing game with Nick Toon (36-459-3) back. His production should increase with Lance Kendricks graduating. Toon has the most experience coming back, but Jared Abbrederis is the next highest returner with 20 catches for 289 yards and three scores. Austin Traylor is a 4-star tight end that could play immediately in place of Kendricks. Wisconsin does not need a lot from the passing game with its running game being so strong.

The offensive line will be up to typical bruising Wisconsin standards even with All-American Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt off to the NFL. By now we should know that Wisconsin replaces 6'5" 320 linemen with more 6'5" 320 linemen. Ricky Wagner was an All-Big Ten right tackle and he now shifts to the left side. Travis Frederick was a freshman starter that redshirted last season. He will now start at left guard. Peter Konz has 20 starts at center and Kevin Zeitler has 22 starts at right guard. Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston will have difficulty with him, as he hasn't given up a sack in his career. Josh Oglesby with 15 starts is coming off of knee surgery, but is favored to take the final spot. I think we might have a better chance if Wisconsin simply started a bulldozer as its line.

Wisconsin Defense

With very few weaknesses on offense the Badger defense should be tasked with simply holding opponents to 20 points or less. They poached linebackers coach DeMontie Cross from us only a few weeks after we hired him, and it is not like the Badgers have been an all-offense, no defense team. Wisconsin held 8 of 13 opponents to 21 points or less in 2010, and that was with 2009 Freshman of the Year Chris Borland missing a good portion of the season due to a shoulder injury.

First, the Badgers must replace J.J. Watt, who was an All-American with our own Ryan Kerrigan. He had just seven sacks, but considering he was the focal point of most offensive lines that was impressive. Louis Nzegwu returns as the leader in sacks with three opposite Watt. David Gilbert will move into Watt's position, but he started eight games last year. Patrick Butrym (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Jordan Kohout (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks) are also experienced tackles.

Borland should be just fine at linebacker if he is healthy, and both Mike Taylor (58 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) and Kevin Claxton bring experience to the position. Wisconsin did not have a tackling monster last year. Blake Sorenson led the team with only 66 stops, but who needs a lot of tackles when the offense can control the clock as it does?

Senior cornerbacks Antonio Fenelus (four interceptions) and Devin Smith will make our passing game difficult. Aaron Henry (58 tackles, 2 INT) and Dezmon Southward are expected to handle the safety spots. Only Southward, as a sophomore, is an underclassman among the four expected starters in the secondary. The defense gave up only 6.9 yards per pass attempt in 2010.

Wisconsin Special Teams

The badgers bring back both specialists from a unit that was just fine a year ago. Phillip Welch hit 17 of 22 field goals with a long of 49, but was 2 of 3 against us. Brad Nortman averaged almost 43 yards per punt.

The return game will miss David Gilreath, who had a return for a score last season on a kickoff. He will likely give way to James White on kickoffs and Abbrederis on punts.

Game Outlook

Honestly, thinking about this game makes me a little queasy. Wisconsin officially has the longest active win streak over us in Big Ten play, having beaten us five straight times starting with "The Fumble" in 2004. Most of those losses haven't been close, either. Aside from the fumble each loss has been by double-digits. This is a testament to just how much stronger physically Wisconsin is.

There is little confidence going into this game considering our last touchdown in Madison was in 2005. This is a bigger, stronger, deeper, and more talented team than us at every position except kicker.

Prediction

We managed to keep it close for about three quarters last year, but that was at home. Our best hope is to have a solid day on the ground. We need to play keepaway from their offense by controlling the clock. Unfortunately, that is Wisconsin's forte. Among the 12 games in 2011, this would be the most surprising win if we pull it off. Wisconsin 34, Purdue 10

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