I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July. It marks the midpoint of summer as we go hurtling toward the football season. In roughly eight short weeks we'll be back at Ross-Ade. This year's Wisconsin game is also a midpoint of sorts. It is the sixth game of the year and the second of a brutal three-game stretch of play where Purdue must face Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State in successive weeks. As I have stated before; if we're going to challenge for the Leaders Division we likely need to win two of these three games.
Fortunately, winning one might be enough as long as it is the Wisconsin game. The Michigan game is not a divisional game, and since Ohio State's season is essentially meaningless, a victory over the Badgers would give us a critical tiebreaker if things get really crazy. Beating Wisconsin would leave us with a home game against Penn State as our next key battle since the Buckeyes are ineligible to win the division.
It is much easier said than done, however. Wisconsin is a team that has pushed us around like no other of late. At least we scored last year at Camp Randall. Unfortunately, so did Wisconsin. A lot. They broke us so much we needed a Carbon Fiber Manufacturer to get fixed. We gave up a record 62 points in a game where the defense did very little right. Sure, Raheem Mostert set a record for most kickoff return yards in a game, but that's easy to do when you give up 62 points and are returning kicks all day.
We haven't beaten the Badgers since 2003, but a win this year would erase a lot of those bad memories.
2011 Record: 11-3, 6-2 Big Ten (Big Ten Champions)
Bowl Result: Lost to Oregon 45-38 in Rose Bowl
Blog Representation: Bucky's 5th Quarter
Series With Purdue: Wisconsin leads 41-29-8
Last Purdue win 10/18/2003 at Wisconsin 26-23
Last Wisconsin win: 11/5/2011 at Wisconsin 62-17
Last Season for the Badgers:
The word curb-stomping doesn't even begin to describe the beating Purdue took last season in Madison. After two straight last minute losses on the road to Michigan State and Ohio State the Badgers were a little pissed off. They took it out on our Boilers to the tune of a 62-17 beating that wasn't even that close. Crosby Wright tied it at 7-7 on a 30 yard TD catch just 23 seconds after Wisconsin scored its first TD, but that is as close as we would get. Wisconsin turned a 14-10 lead after one quarter into 35-10 at one point in the second quarter. The Badgers gained 605 yards and 364 on the ground with Montee Ball going for 223 and three scores.
Last season's game was so embarrassing that Wisconsin's backup kicker got into the game for a 29 yard field goal. Somehow we forced them to punt three times, but I don't remember it.
The rest of the year was solid as the Badgers won the first ever Big Ten Championship game and returned to Pasadena, where they lost an exciting Rose Bowl to Oregon. They are the heavy favorites to repeat as Leaders Division champs this year with good reason. Until a team stops their running game they'll just keep on winning.
Purdue has struggled for years against Wisconsin because they have a burly offensive line and a steady stream of excellent running backs that run behind them. I have no idea why he came back, but Ball is returning after tying the Division I touchdowns record last season with 39 scores. He had 1,923 yards rushing and 33 TDs while catching 24 passes for 306 yards and six more scores. The guy practically set up a lounge chair and a TV in the end zone he was there so much. He has 61 career touchdowns, 55 on the ground. He is in range of the all-time rushing touchdowns record of 73 set by Travis Prentice and the Big Ten record set by Anthony Thompson of Indiana with 64.
For good measure, Ball has James White (713 yards, 6 TDs) as a very capable backup. Four-star recruit Melvin Gordon is likely going to step in at third string after redshirting last season. They should have plenty of holes to run through as Wisconsin's offensive line is simply massive. Guard Ryan Groy is the smallest at 6'5" 322 pounds. Rob Havenstein at 6'8" 343 pounds is the biggest player at tackle. Wagner is also the lone senior of the starting five, so this is a young group that will be around for awhile. Here is what Bucky's 5th Quarter had to say about them:
While the Badgers replace three starters on the line, two of those replacements - Rob Havenstein and Ryan Groy - are far from rookies. Havenstein saw the field in 13 games last season while Groy started in four and played in all 14 games. Head coach Bret Bielema has yet to name a starter at right guard, but Badger fans should feel confident in the experience of the four known starters heading into fall practice.
The one question mark for the Badgers is at quarterback. The one year solution of Russell Wilson is over, leaving a substantial void. Freshman Joel Stave is listed at No. 1 right now. Joe Brennan and Curt Phillips are also in the mix. Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien could also start after being a starter the last two seasons for the Terrapins.
Whomever starts honestly won't have to do a lot. Hell, I could start if all I had to do was hand off to Ball and White while going virtually untouched behind a massive offensive line. Jared Abbrederis (55-933-8) and Jeff Duckworth (15-230-1) give the quarterback two solid targets to throw to, but losing Nick Toon is not a plus. Tight End Jacob Pedersen (30-356-8) is a definitely red zone threat with his eight scores a season ago.
The Badger defense did not need to be a brick wall last season. When the offense averaged nearly 45 points per game it obviously left a large margin of error for the defense. Even then, Wisconsin only gave up 19 points per game and five times held a team to 10 or less. That makes it very easy to win. Wisconsin was 1-3 in games in which it gave up more than 20 points and 10-0 in all other games.
There shouldn't be a huge drop off as Mike Taylor and his 150 tackles, two sacks, and two interceptions returns as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, if not the country. Taylor can get into the backfield, defend the pass, sell tickets before games, pass out water at halftime, and cater the post-game meal. Chris Borland is just about as good with 143 tackles, 19 of which came for loss. They'll be joined by first-time starter A.J. Fenton to form possibly the best grouping of linebackers in the league.
The pass rush could be a bit of a problem, as Pat Muldoon and Brendan Kelly only had three sacks between them in 2011. Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer are massive 300+ pound tackles that will be incredibly difficult to run against. Even if you do get through them you have Borland and Taylor behind them. Jordan Kohout provides experienced depth behind them too.
Dezmond Southward and Shelton Johnson are experienced safeties, and Johnson shared the team lead with Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus with four interceptions. The corners are Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith, with Smith being a relative newcomer. Cromartie is a sure tackler, but had no interceptions last season. Smith has been in and out of the lineup as a starter for much of his career, but he does have 16 starts in three seasons.
This unit has the parts to be more than good enough for this offense. Even with the quarterback issues the Badgers should be able to hang 35 points on almost anyone in the country without breaking a sweat. This defense is more than good enough to hold teams under 30. Outside of Taylor and Borland the numbers aren't flashy, but they don't need to be.
Wisconsin Special Teams:
Wisconsin only attempted 11 field goals last season, with Kyle French, this year's starter, going 3 of 5 with a long of 29 yards. He was also 26 of 27 on extra points, which wll likely again be his more important duty. Montee Ball had almost as many points (236) as Wisconsin gave up (266) all season, so it is not like the kicking game is that important for them.
Drew Meyer is a redshirt freshman who will take over punting duties, but is not expected to be used much. For good measure Abbrederis is one of the best punt returners in the country with a 15.8 yard average in 20 returns last year and a score. He also averaged 24.6 yards per return on kicks.
I mean, it is hard to look at what Wisconsin does, compare it to what we've seen in every game against the Badgers since The Fumble, and wonder how we're going to be even close, let alone win. This is a team that routinely not only beats Purdue, but beats it up as well.
There is a little hope, however. In Sean Robinson's only career start at quarterback two seasons ago Purdue led 7-0 after one quarter and 10-6 at halftime before the Wisconsin completely owned the second half that Purdue team was held together with masking tape and balsa wood, but still managed to be competitive for most of the game. It was even within a touchdown at 20-13 in the fourth quarter before the Badgers got two late touchdowns. This Purdue team is better than that one.
What hurt Purdue that day was a three interception game from Robinson, which can hardly be held against him since he was a fourth string true freshman making his first start against a championship defense. Purdue has to take advantage of the question mark at the quarterback position, but at this point in the season will likely be answered.
Even then, Ball has been a freaking beast against Purdue with 368 rushing yards and five touchdowns against us. It is paramount that we don't let him get going behind that offensive line early because they can and will wear our defensive front down in a hurry.
The Badgers were a little vulnerable against the run last season, giving up 153 yards per game. The pass defense was solid though at 163 yards per game. I tend to think our running game will be our strength, so we need to move the ball on the ground and, more importantly, keep their offense off the field. Wisconsin also had a major +16 in turnovers, turning it over just 10 times last season. That won't help us.
As much as I would like to pick Purdue I realize we're going to need a perfect game to win. Even then, I have seen us get physically manhandled by Wisconsin for far too long. If Ohio State is the unexplained good match-up for us every year Wisconsin is just the opposite: They are a bad matchup in nearly every phase of the game. We haven't proven we can stop Ball at all, and by stop him I mean hold him under 150 yards and two scores. Until I see us counter their physicality, I can't pick us. Wisconsin 38, Purdue 21