With three straight Rose Bowl appearances before last season, the Badgers have suffered an embarrassment of riches. They can still win the Big Ten this season, and Purdue has been a small speed bump on their way to the Big Ten crown before. To see things from the Wisconsin perspective I spoke with Andrew Rosin of Bucky's Fifth Quarter this week:
T-Mill: No team has been as dominant over Purdue in the Big Ten as Wisconsin in recent years. The Boilers haven't won since 2003 (longest streak we have active of losses in the Big Ten) and they really haven't been close since The Fumble in 2004. Are you as confident in another win as I am in another Purdue defeat?
Andrew: Honestly, while I do think this isn't the same sort of team that the Badgers could just basically show up and end up with 40-plus points against, your defense has too much give to make this a game where the Badgers get beat, You're definitely trending upwards and maybe in a couple of seasons you're going to have a team that could make some noise in the west. This is not that year.
T-Mill: The biggest factor in all these wins has been Wisconsin's physicality. Despite some struggles, does Wisconsin still have that going for them?
Andrew: Yeah, the running game has been just great. Of course, when you have a transcendent player in Melvin Gordon and a potential great one in Corey Clement, it's a little easier to be thumping dudes when your passing game is simply that bad. But offensively, the Badgers are physical as they every were. The Badgers defense? It's completely different than the physical force that was last year. It seems slightly better.
T-Mill: It is no secret that the power run game has given Purdue fits. Is Wisconsin rounding into shape there with their recent performances against Maryland and Rutgers?
Andrew: The running game was never the problem. The Badgers lost to Northwestern and Melvin Gordon ran for his season high in yardage. So to answer your question, I suppose it's a yes?
T-Mill: What is Wisconsin's biggest issue in the pass game and is it getting fixed?
Andrew: All right, this one might be a rant. First of all, the Badgers don't have two receivers that they can throw to. Alex Erickson's decent, but the Badgers WR2 might not get to 10 catches.Sure, the Badgers can throw to the tight ends. But Andy Ludwig doesn't target them as the primary receiver nearly enough. And speaking of Ludwig, let's talk about the Badgers two-quarterback system. Joel Stave's fine, but because he wasn't in September? The Badgers are keeping Tanner McEvoy at quarterback.
Now McEvoy can do some things. He's a great runner, and he can make short passes, and he's accurate on the run. But he's a lot better as an athlete than as a quarterback. And Andy Ludwig? He calls plays for him like he's Joel Stave. And it's a combo breaker that will blunt the real Joel Stave's rhythm and put the momentum of the game at risk.So basically, what's going to fix this is give Tanner McEvoy a position where he can better show off his athleticism and a different playcaller at offensive coordinator.
T-Mill: Purdue's offense has been performing well of late. Do you see it continuing that trend against a Badger defense that is also coming together?
Andrew: I kind of disagree with coming together. Warren Herring being healthy makes this defense spectacular. He almost led the team in sacks and turnovers last season as a nose tackle, and that disruption forces two offensive linemen to take him every play. This allows the linebackers and Michael Caputo to wreak havoc on the running game. I will say that Darius Hillary has faced two of the best receivers in the Big Ten and passed with flying colors. That sort of one on one dominance is the only element that's different than where this team was in the first half of that
T-Mill: How is this team different from the one that was stunned by Northwestern?
Andrew: The defense is healthy. Justin Jackson faced a front seven that was half healthy. And they made a personnel mistake in starting Michael Trotter instead of Leon Jacobs. Also, Andy Ludwig called a game where he thought he could overpower Northwestern, and yet not use the tight ends in the passing game and not let Tanner McEvoy run around in the first half.
Also, Joel Stave throwing his first collegiate red zone interception as part of the four the Badgers threw on the day had a little to do with that. Not gonna say the Badgers didn't have luck on their side, but I am gonna say that those four interceptions are part of a team total of nine.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction?
Andrew: Like I said, not a pure blowout. But the Badgers will pull away in the second half. Badgers 31, Purdue 7.