It wouldn’t be Wisconsin week without a reference to a proper, Polish surname. That’s why we have Jake Kocorowski from Bucky’s 5th Quarter to talk about Saturday’s game.
T-Mill: No team has been more dominant over Purdue than Wisconsin. Last season was the rare close game though. Is there much concern in the Wisconsin camp?
Jake: I haven't gotten a chance to head down to Camp Randall yet this week for player availability (will on Wednesday afternoon), but from covering this team throughout the season, the one thing I've noticed is that they're focused on their opponent each week. Even after the huge win at Lambeau against LSU, senior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright noted they'd start looking at Akron immediately thereafter.
Based on the fact Purdue's rush defense is among the worst in the FBS, I think the rejuvenated running game and its participants may be licking their chops -- but they're not going to overlook Purdue. The Boilermakers' passing attack could test a secondary that's overachieved this season after there were initial thoughts by many of that group being a question mark for the defense.
T-Mill: Which running back is going for 260 yards and 3 TDs on Saturday.
Jake: Senior Corey Clement is 72 yards away from 1,000 on the season, and has rushed for 100 yards in four of the last five games. He's been the workhorse of the position group, but two other options have provided sparks for the rushing attack.
Fellow senior (and also team captain) Dare Ogunbowale is that change-of-pace back that can run the ball, catch it out of the backfield, but also holds up in pass protection. He's gone over 100 yards against Nebraska and Illinois in recent weeks, most notably out of a three-wide receiver set (11 personnel) with a shotgun look.
Redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw stepped up in huge fashion the past few weeks, seeing at least 11 carries in the last two games, and is more like Clement than Ogunbowale. From watching Shaw, he shows a patience for the blocks to set up ahead of him, then explodes quickly to the second level. All three could play a huge role and have big games this week.
T-Mill: Purdue is extremely thin due to injuries and a severe lack of depth. What needs to happen for this to even be competitive?
Jake: Turnovers, injuries and big plays by the Boilermakers' passing attack. Wisconsin's lost its starting kicker (Rafael Gaglianone), and two starting inside linebackers (Jack Cichy and Chris Orr) for the season. Players like Andrew Endicott, Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs have stepped up to fill the gaps very well. There have been so many at so many positions, though, but the players really believe in the "Next Man Up" system.
I will say turnovers can hurt this team. The quarterback play from redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and redshirt senior Bart Houston haven't been great of late (team has not thrown for over 200 yards since Iowa on Oct. 22, though the re-emerging running game's become the focus), and both made an interception a piece late in the Nebraska game that could have cost them a chance at the Big Ten West division.
With Purdue's passing attack leading the conference, and there have been times when the secondary has given up an explosive play or two. This group, led by seniors Sojourn Shelton and Leo Musso, has played amazingly well under the leadership of former walk-on, All-American and 10-year veteran Jim Leonhard, who returned to his alma mater as defensive backs coach. The defensive backs LOVE him, with good reason.
T-Mill: How much will the weather be a factor, as a cold, windy days certainly seems to favor Wisconsin?
Jake: If it's cold and windy, you can expect Wisconsin to run the ball, run it again, and for good measure, run it once more. The offensive line is finally healthy and playing as a cohesive unit after injuries dwindled their numbers at the position earlier in the year (they actually used multiple line combinations in late Oct./early Nov.).
One thing to look out for is the special teams in terms of punts and field goals. Wisconsin has been inconsistent in the punting aspect, but true freshman Anthony Lotti's stepped up in recent weeks in terms of placing the ball well deep in their opponents' own territory.
After Gagalinone's injury, Endicott was pressed into duty and has gone 10-for-15. He did have some trouble against Iowa (1-for-3), Nebraska (missed a potential 45-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, then missed an extra point in overtime that could have been disastrous in their 23-17 win) and Northwestern (2-for-4). Last week, he stepped up and hit both field goal attempts and all of his extra points in UW's 48-3 win over Illnois. The former walk-on will look to continue his rebound this week, but the conditions could play a factor.
T-Mill: Can we just play basketball instead? That sounds like more fun.
Jake: Sooooooooon, my friend. Soon.