A funny thing happened in 2015. As Purdue fans, we're used to getting thumped by Wisconsin whenever football is involved. Last year was different, however. Purdue went to Madison and lost 24-7 in a game that was much closer than expected. The Boilers only trailed 10-7 at halftime and the defense played well until giving up two late scores.
Unfortunately, the game played out like many others dur9ing the Hazell era. Purdue had an excellent game plan defensively and played well enough to win, but the offensive playcalling left a ton to be desired. Purdue's lone scoring drive was a mere 29 yards, set up by a long interception return from Leroy Clark. Trailing just 10-7 at halftime the genius of John Shoop gained 12 yards in 11 plays over the next three possessions, all with a chance to take the lead. Purdue gained 191 yards total on the day, but in a first they held Wisconsin's legendary ground game to less than 100 yards.
It was a frustrating game because it wasn't so much that Wisconsin was a brick wall defensively. Overall the offensive playcalling was quite callow, never taking even the most remote of chances. Purdue completed one pass to a receiver longer than 10 yards, and the two longest pass plays were running backs breaking dump offs for 20 and 21 yards. It was almost like Hazell, Shoop, and company didn't even try to test Wisconsin's defense when the Purdue defense was doing a very good job for three quarters. It was a rare chance to end the streak of dominance Wisconsin has over Purdue, which is now at 10 straight, the longest active streak of any opponent over the Boilers:
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
2015: Wisconsin 24, Purdue 7
So what is in store for when the Badgers come to Ross-Ade? Is it finally the year when Purdue turns the tables on their nemesis from Madison? Wisconsin is not as strong as in the past, and if this Purdue gets some confidence from the early season schedule maybe, just maybe, the long streak of Badger dominance will end.
2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten
Bowl Result: beat USC 23-21 in Holiday Bowl
Blog Representation: Bucky's 5th Quarter
Series With Purdue: Wisconsin leads 45-29-8
Last Purdue win 10/18/2003 at Wisconsin 26-23
Last Wisconsin win: 10/17/2015 at Wisconsin 24-7
Last Season for the Badgers:
Last year the Badgers were good, but not quite good enough. Any chance to make an early name for themselves in the eyes of the Playoff Committee ended in week 1 with a 35-17 loss to Alabama. A 10-6 loss to Iowa and 13-7 loss to Northwestern cost them a chance at returning to the Big Ten title game. The rest of the time, they were all business. Against Miami (Oh), Troy, Hawaii, and Purdue they gave up a total of 10 points. They mostly beat exactly who they were supposed to beat and struggled against the good teams on their schedule. Their best victory came over USC.
This year's schedule is, in a word, brutal, and that could benefit Purdue. This is going to be a beaten and bruised team by the time it gets to West Lafayette. They open the season in a neutral site game at Lambeau field against LSU. I am not sure which deity they angered, but the opening Big Ten slate is as tough as is humanly possible with road trips to Michigan State and Michigan followed by a home game against Ohio State. They then go to Iowa, who was only undefeated in the regular season last year.
There is real potential for a 2-5 start in the first 7 games, which is unheard of for the Badger program. Something tells me they will be ready though. This is Wisconsin. They are always pretty damn good.
Perhaps the strangest thing about last year's win over Purdue in Madison is that it did not come primarily on the ground. Impressively, Purdue held them under 100 yards rushing as a team, which is almost unheard of. Usually Purdue struggles to keep them under 300 yards on the ground. All three touchdowns were scored on the ground, but Joel Stave was 30 for 39 for 322 yards and was intercepted once.
Stave, who started his career under Barry Alvarez in 1991, is gone, and Wisconsin is going to need someone to step in and do more than hand the ball off to the latest hot running back behind a massive offensive line. There is no definite starter, either. Bart Houston had 281 yards and three touchdowns in mop up duty last year, but the senior has not played a lot in his career. He still has more experience than Alex Hornibrook or Kare Lyles. I do not envy Wisconsin having to play that early schedule with their inexperience at quarterback.
Things look better at running back, but most years it seems like Wisconsin could put an amputee at running back and they would rush for 1,000 yards and 15 TDs. Corey Clement was banged up for most of last season and should return as the primary back. If he stays healthy he could be the best in the Big Ten. Dare Ogunbowale (819 yards, 7 TDs) and Taiwan deal (503 yards, 6 TDs) provide plenty of depth, while Alec Ingold is the bruising goal line fullback that can get 2-3 yards every carry. He only had 131 yards last season, but he added 6 touchdowns, including two against Purdue.
There is some promise at receiver for when Wisconsin has to throw the ball. Robert Wheelright brings good experience and size to the position. Tony Fumagalli is the latest huge Wisconsin tight end that is tough to cover. Jazz Peavy should contribute quite a bit too.
Then there is that famous offensive line. I am always impressed that Wisconsin seems to have a simply massive offensive line across all five spots. In some years it feel like they have Wun-Wun the Giant at left tackle and four of his brothers at the other spots. Ryan Ramczyk should move in to the left tackle spot left open by Tyler Marz. Dan Voltz is one of the better guards in the conference with 27 career starts too. Michael Deiter and Micah Kapoi also have double-digit starts in their careers, so the line will be fine. Jacob Maxwell at 6'6" 319 will likely anchor the right tackle spot.
Last season the Wisconsin defense was pretty strong overall. Even in the losses to Iowa and Northwestern it only gave up 23 total points. The 35 points to Alabama can be forgiven because, well, it is Alabama. Alabama's scout team is made up of players that would start immediately at Purdue.
There is a lot of returning experience to count on all over the defense. Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy both played extensively on the ends last year. Olice Sagapolu will likely get the start at nose tackle too. There were not a lot of sacks from the line because Wisconsin runs the 3-4 where its linebackers are the ones getting into the backfield.
Those linebackers are good at it, too. Vince Biegel had 8 sacks and 48.5 tackles last season. T.J. Edwards and Jack Cichy should also serve the badgers well on the inside. Coming off of the other end T.J. Watt (Yes, J.J.'s brother) could have an impressive season.
The secondary is somewhat depleted with the top three performers all gone from last season. That leaves cornerback Derrick Tindal as the most experienced player. He only had 25 tackles and five pass breakups, however. D'Cote Dixon and Leo Musso should get the first looks at the safety spots, while there is plenty of experienced depth to start at corner.
Wisconsin Special Teams
Rafael Gaglianone was decent as a placekicker last season. He was a perfect 40 for 40 on PATS and hit on 18 of 27 field goals. The Badgers will need to find a new punter after the departure of Drew Meyer.
In the return game Natrell Jamerson is dangerous on kickoffs. He returned one for a touchdown last season and averaged 22.4 yards per return. Sojourn Shelton should handle punt return duties.
If Purdue is going to break the hex against Wisconsin anytime soon, this is the year. They are deeply inexperienced at quarterback and the brutal schedule could take its toll on them long before they get to West Lafayette. Purdue somehow contained the ground game last season and if the defense can do it a second year in a row it will help. Purdue's weak earlier schedule can help it too. I think a big reason for Purdue's struggles last season was that the losses to Marshall and Bowling Green pretty much broke the team's confidence. A couple of early season wins could do the opposite this year.
This is the Wisconsin game though. I know the Badgers are more than capable of coming into Ross-Ade and steamrolling Purdue for three hours as Corey Clement goes for 350 yards and 4 TDs. Even after last season's unexpected competitiveness I am conditioned to think Wisconsin will run at will on Purdue. It what seems to happen every time these two play.
There is a positive, however: This game will most likely be Morgan Burke's final home football game at Purdue!
Way Too Early Prediction
It is Wisconsin. Someday, maybe, Purdue is going to beat them again, but I just don't trust Hazell. Not after they essentially punted away a winnable game last year. Wisconsin 27, Purdue 10