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Know Thy Opponent 2015: Wisconsin Badgers

Once again, Wisconsin is going to run the ball. A lot.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is the preview I dread every year. No team in the Big Ten has a longer winning streak against our Boilers than Wisconsin. Not only is it a win streak, it is often very ugly when we face the Badgers:

2004: Wisconsin 20, Purdue 17 (a.k.a., 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

2014: Wisconsin 34, Purdue 16

All of these games can be broken down quite simply: The Boilers could not generate enough offense and could not stop the run even though they knew it was coming. Melvin Gordon was only the latest back to gash Purdue when he went for 2005 yards and a score last season. The Boilers had a rare lead at 3-0 last season but trailed 24-6 at halftime before scoring 10 unanswered points. The Boilers were within 8 for a good portion of the third quarter, making it the rare competitive game, but faded in the fourth.

That the game was even competitive at all is a rarity in this series. Most of the time Purdue is behind by at least four touchdowns headed toward the fourth quarter after giving up over 350 yards rushing. It doesn't matter if it is Montee Ball, James White, Ron Dayne, Melvin Gordon, or any other Wisconsin running back. Purdue has refused to stop them for over a decade now, and unless something changes we should expect more of the same because Wisconsin has long been the team that simply out-muscles Purdue in nearly every facet.

2014 Record: 11-3, 7-2 Big Ten

Bowl Result: beat Auburn 34-31 in Outback Bowl

Blog Representation: Bucky's 5th Quarter

Series With Purdue: Wisconsin leads 44-29-8

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

Last Wisconsin win: 11/8/2014 at Purdue 34-16

Last Season for the Badgers:

By most account the 2014 Wisconsin season was a rousing success. There is no shame in losing to LSU in a close neutral site game. The Badgers were thumped by Ohio State 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship game, but by then the Buckeyes were in God mode and no one was beating them.

The only "What?" result by Wisconsin was a near-inexplicable 20-14 loss at Northwestern on October 4th. That result, combined with Purdue's lone conference win over Illinois, made the B1G West officially cannibalistic, as the following happened:

Purdue beat Illinois

Illinois beat Minnesota

Minnesota beat Iowa

Iowa beat Northwestern

Northwestern beat Wisconsin

Wisconsin beat Nebraska

Nebraska beat Purdue

Out of that mess the Badgers went 7-1 in the league to win the West. They also won a nice bowl game over Auburn. Their 11-3 was quite legit, and even after losing their coach to Oregon State they should once again be solid under Paul Chryst.

Wisconsin Offense

This is why Wisconsin is so good. You know exactly what they are going to do. They are going to have a stable of running backs running behind a massive and talented offensive line. They come right at you, and most teams still cannot stop it. It has been good for at least 8 wins a season and three conference championships for every year since 2004 since going "only" 7-6 in 2008. It is lather, rinse, repeat for this every year.

Wisconsin is expected to win the Big Ten West yet again. They have played in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title every year but one since the title game was instituted and they have the tools to get there again.

The offensive line lost a pair of All-Americans in Rob Havenstein at right tackle and Kyle Costigan at right guard. That's okay though, because they grow 6'7" 330 pound athletic linemen in a field in Madison. Left guard Dallas Lewallen and his 21 starts is also gone, but Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz each have been starters for two seasons. They are the only linemen with starting experience on the roster, so there could be some questions up front. Hayden Biegel, Walker Williams, and Ray Ball should all fill in nicely. Yes,t hey are all about 6'6" 320.

Gordon is gone after a huge season of 2,600 yards, but Corey Clement is "next". As Gordon's backup he "only" had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns. This is an offense where those are average numbers for a backup while the Balls and Gordons of the world get close to 2,000 yards. Clement will likely go for at least 1,500 yards, and probably about 200 and three scores against Purdue. Taiwan Deal, a redshirt freshman, is expected to be Clement's main backup.

The quarterback situation is pretty solid with a senior leading the way. Tanner McEvoy is an excellent athlete with 591 yards and six TDs last year, but he struggled with throwing the ball, so he will move back to safety. Joel Stave ended up playing most of the time and had a modest 1,305 yards and 9 TDs against 10 interceptions. His completion rate was a paltry 53%, but when you have an excellent running game and good defense almost anyone can play quarterback in Madison as long as they don't screw up too badly.

In terms of receivers, Alex Erickson (55-772-3) led the team in receiving after being a former walk-on. He enters his senior season as a Danny Anthrop-like receiver that should be the focus of the passing game. There is not a lot of experience otherwise. Troy Fumagali is a huge tight end to throw to, but this is probably the largest question mark for the entire team.

Wisconsin Defense

Wisconsin is always in a unique position when it comes to defense. Their defense is usually pretty good, and it often has to do less work than most teams because the offense is often very good at grinding clock and keeping them well rested with the manball running game. As long as the Badgers weren't playing Ohio State last year the defense was fine.

The Badgers were one of the best defensive teams in the country last year, but struggled in most fourth quarters. They play a 3-4 explained thusly by Bill C.:

A 3-4 line isn't usually intended to make many plays; the goal is to occupy blockers and allow linebackers to flow to the ball. But Wisconsin's needed to make a few more plays than it made last year.

Wisconsin linemen combined for 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2013, but those numbers fell to 11.5 and four, respectively, last fall. The pass rush was still a strength thanks to the linebackers, but Wisconsin fell from ninth to 28th in Rushing S&P+.

Aranda will do some retooling. Nose guard Arthur Goldberg moves to end, putting a lot of pressure on high-upside (and relatively undersized) sophomore Connor Sheehy, the new presumptive starter in the middle. If Sheehy holds up and former four-star signee Chikwe Obasih experiences a second-year breakthrough (he evidently had a great spring), the line will improve.

And that could mean great things for the linebackers.

Those linebackers are outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel, who made up for the lack of production up front to combine for 30 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Basically, you can forget about running to the outside on Wisconsin. You might get something going up the middle, but good luck.

Wisconsin loses just one player in the secondary that didn't pick off a ton of passes last season, but was still effective. Michael Caputo will be one of the best strong safeties in the Big Ten. The previously mentioned Tanner McEvoy will start at the other safety position after playing well there in 2013. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton provide continuity on the outside.

Wisconsin Special Teams

I finally found something Wisconsin is lousy at! Drew Meyer and Bart Houston were terrible punters with neither averaging over 38 yards per kick. Placekicker Rafael Gaglianone was pretty good, however, going 19 of 22 on field goals.

The Badgers will need to find a new kickoff returner. Kenzel Doe graduated after handling both kickoff and punt return duties last season.

Game Outlook

It never changes for Purdue against Wisconsin. The Boilers need to find a way to score more than 20 points (preferably before garbage time) and they will have to stop the run. It really is that simple. Wisconsin never has to do anything different against Purdue because we don't force them to. We don't have the size or strength to match up with them on virtually any level, and for years they have been the bully that shoves us around simply because they can.

Absolutely nothing will change until this series until Purdue gets better. Wisconsin is not going to get any worse. This is a measuring stick game because of the Badgers' dominance over Purdue over the last decade. Even Ohio State has had moments of genuine fear against the Boilers. Not Wisconsin.


Until proven otherwise, Wisconsin in a rout. Wisconsin 45, Purdue 13