Before the season started many folks did not give Purdue much hope of entering game #10 with a chance, however slim, of reaching a bowl game. After seeing nine games Purdue has exceeded these preseason expectations, yet the loss to Central Michigan and the one-point loss (and blown second half double-digit lead) at Minnesota feel like missed opportunities that should have the Boilers at 5-4. I think if this team played Central Michigan today it could easily win by 21 instead of lose by 21. It has improved that much.
But what's done is done. Purdue is still 3-6 and on the verge of elimination from the postseason. Because Northwestern is struggling and Indiana has resumed being Indiana the Boilers would be very much alive for a bowl game if they can get past Wisconsin on Saturday. Beating the Badgers would also be a huge step forward, as it would mean Purdue would get a victory over one of the conference's elite teams for the first time since beating Ohio State five years ago.
Can it be done? Maybe, but his is still Wisconsin, and the Badgers have absolutely dominated Purdue in every aspect since The Fumble:
2004: Wisconsin 20, Purdue 17 (The Fumble)
2005: Wisconsin 31, Purdue 20
2006: Wisconsin 24, Purdue 3
2009: Wisconsin 37, Purdue 0
2010: Wisconsin 34, Purdue 13
2011: Wisconsin 62, Purdue 17
2012: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 14
2013: Wisconsin 41, Purdue 10
Purdue's 8-game losing streak is the longest currently active streak we have against anyone in the conference (and we have an active losing streak against everyone except Illinois and Rutgers). Purdue has failed to score more than 20 points against Wisconsin since the 26-23 win in Madison in 2003, while the Badgers have scored at least 31 in six of the last seven contests. In fact, since The Fumble Purdue has led just twice. They led at 7-0, for less than three minutes, in 2012. Caleb Terbush scored on a 1-yard keeper with 14:22 left in the first quarter in 2012. The lead lasted for two minutes and 18 seconds before the Badgers scored to tie it, starting a 38-0 run that wasn't answered until Akeem Hunt broke an 81-yard TD with 1:39 left in the game.The other game was the 2010 game, where Purdue led 10-6 at halftime behind Sean Robinson at QB (he is now a linebacker) before getting blown out.
So yeah, it has been bad. Purdue hasn't just lost to the Badgers a lot, it hasn't even been close to a victory most of the time. The 2005 game, which was tied 10-10 at halftime, is the only one in which the Boilers were even competitive beyond halftime. An unlikely Purdue victory would represent a stunning turnaround in this series.
Who to Watch on Offense:
Melvin Gordon - Running Back - Purdue got incredibly lucky last week when Ameer Abdullah went down with a minor injury, but the Cornhuskers still moved the ball well. The tour of solid running backs will continue this week as Gordon, who has rushed for 1,296 yards and 18 touchdowns, is just as good as Abduallah if not better. He is the third straight top 10 running back nationally that Purdue will have faced and along with David Cobb, Abdullah, Jarvion Franklin, and Thomas Rawls he is the fifth running back in the top 13 nationally in yards that we will have played. He is just four yards behind Indiana's Tevin Coleman for the Big Ten lead, though Abduallah missing most of last week helped him.
Surprisingly the only team to stop him was FCS Western Illinois, who held him to 38 yards on 17 carries. He has twice been over 250 yards and should easily reach 4,000 yards for his career by the time the season is over. Last year he had 147 yards and two scores on only 16 carries against Purdue and he had 80 yards on 7 carries two years ago.
Corey Clement - Running Back - Just in case Gordon gets tired of running up and down the field Clement is there to be fresh and take some carries. He has 697 yards and seven scores of his own, so it is not like he is some schmuck. Last season he did a very nice job against Purdue with 83 yards on 13 carries and a score.
Tanner McEvoy - Quarterback - The Wisconsin passing game has struggled, but McEvoy is a definite threat to run with 400 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Because of the massive offensive line in front of this group the Badgers can take McEvoy, Gordon, and Clement and easily assert their will on the ground without passing. Since this has been especially true when facing Purdue the past few years we should definitely worry about stopping the ground game first, second, third, and fourth, because their passing game has simply not mattered against us.
The Offensive Line - It is Wisconsin. They have a gigantic offensive line with three fifth-year seniors and the five guys average about 320 pounds each. 6'8" 333 pound tackle Rob Havenstein is the largest of the group that has simply plowed Purdue over for years. As a team Wisconsin is third nationally in rushing at 333.4 yards per game and 121st in passing at 143.6 yards. They are going to run the ball and we have to find a way to stop it. That is simple on paper, but extremely difficult in practice.
Who to Watch on Defense:
Derek Landisch - Linebacker - The disruptive linebacker has 11 tackles for loss and five sacks to lead a team giving up only 14.1 points per game, which is third nationally. The unit has been especially good in the last two games, giving up seven points total against Rutgers and Maryland. Illinois had some success by putting up 28 points with a balanced attack, but still did not gain over 300 total yards.
Vince Biegel - Linebacker - Another disruptive force that can get into the backfield, he has eight tackles for loss. I think what stands out the most about this team is that there are no major defensive standouts, but the entire unit is ridiculously solid. They are mostly a brick wall against the run at less than 100 yards per game on the ground and the pass defense only gives up about 150 per game. Even though Wisconsin is -2 in turnover margin the entire defense does not give up much.
Who to Watch on Special Teams:
Rafael Gaglianone - Kicker - He has been solid by hitting 10 of 13 attempts, including his last five.
Kensel Doe - Returner - Doe handles both kicks and punts and has a double-digit return average on punts.
Well, we're facing a dominant defense and one of the best running games in the country. Alex Erickson and Sam Arneson are the only guys they ever throw two (no one else has more than eight receptions) as they have combined for 49 of the team's 97 completed passes. There is also the mental factor that Wisconsin has just been so physically dominant over Purdue that it is difficult for us to overcome. It is difficult to see Purdue winning this game.
There is some hope though. Even though the numbers show that the Badgers should be undefeated, they collapsed against LSU (who is a very good team in its own right) and there is the Northwestern game. The Badgers should have crushed the Wildcats, but lost 20-14 even though Gordon ran for 259 yards and a touchdown. Northwestern was helped by McEvoy and Joel Stave combining to throw four interceptions while Northwestern didn't turn the ball over once.
For Purdue to win something similar is going to have to happen. Unfortunately, even though Stave and McEvoy are splitting time the Badgers just don't have to throw a lot. This is a similar team to Minnesota in that they don't throw much at all (only 20 attempts last week), but the Gophers are far more efficient when they throw. Wisconsin makes up for it but simply being better in the running game. They aren't a great passing team by any stretch, but it hasn't mattered because they just run people over.
So Purdue is going against them with a pair of freshmen linebackers (plus a sophomore) and a defensive line that, while it is improving, has been gashed at times. Also, our best player in the secondary (Frankie Williams) may be out. While Purdue did out-gain Nebraska last week, special teams mistakes allowed for 35 points and really, that is all that matters.
For Purdue to have any chance the special teams mistakes have to go away, the defense has to play like it did against Nebraska and Iowa, and the offense has got to cash in on any mistakes, unlike last week. Wisconsin is going to run and Gordon is going to get his yards. We know what is coming, but can we stop it? Unfortunately, we have known what was coming for years against the Badgers and have been unable to stop it.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Slow down Gordon by any means necessary
- Load up against the run and dare them to throw (they have 9 pass TDs vs. 9 INTs)
- Find any way necessary to move the ball consistently with a balanced attack
- Take advantage of any and all turnovers
- Tackle Gordon on every play, whether he has the ball or not (he likely will)