For the first time in ages I am not terrified of Wisconsin and resigned to a sure multi-touchdown loss. That is the effect Jeff Brohm has had on Purdue football. The Badgers have been our unbeatable bully for more than a decade. We have gone into each season just expecting a loss by double digits where one of their running backs rushing for 200 or more yards with ease. For the most part we have been right, too.
The exception was two years ago, which is just another reason to be infuriated with Hazell and Shoop. Purdue somehow held the Badgers to 96 yards on 37 carries, but still lost 24-7 because the offensive game plan was basically “That play didn’t work, run it again! Just execute better!” That was Purdue’s best chance at beating Wisconsin, yet we still only scored because of a 66 yard interception return to the badger 29 to set up our lone score.
This year is different. Sure, Wisconsin is probably going to win. They are the better team with more talent. They have been playing well and, once again, they have an excellent running back that runs behind a group of very large humans whose job is to pave the way for him. Brohm has changed things though. He has this team playing well enough that maybe, just maybe it can throw the Wisconsin gorilla off its back.
Purdue has nothing to lose Saturday. People expect it to lose and it probably will. The revised goal of a bowl game does not ride on this game. It is a sign of what Brohm has done that we think an upset is possible and we’re actually interested in watching the Wisconsin game instead of looking for something else to do during the horror.
2017 Record: 5-0, 2-0
2016 Record: 11-3, 7-2 (Big Ten Runner-up)
Bowl Result: beat Western Michigan 24-16 in Cotton Bowl
Blog Representation: Bucky’s 5th Quarter
Series with Purdue: Wisconsin leads 47-29-8
Last Purdue win: 26-23 at Wisconsin on 10/18/2003
Last Wisconsin win: 49-20 at Purdue on 11/19/2016
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (26-6 in 3rd year at Wisconsin, 45-25 overall)
So far this season Wisconsin is undefeated because it has a solid defense to go along with a pretty good offense. It is 9th nationally in defensive scoring at only 14.2 points per game and 16th in offensive scoring at 40.2 per game. As expected, that is built on a strong running game that is 16th nationally at 257.6 yards per game. Since the usual triple-option suspects are always at the top of the rushing stats that is pretty good for a more traditional offense.
The badgers have rarely been challenged so far. They fell behind Utah State 10-0 for a quarter in the opener before rebounding to win 59-10. They easily handled FAU and BYU before facing a bit of a challenge from Northwestern. A late safety secured that win, then they won with a late push at Nebraska last week 38-17. This is a team that wears you down as the game goes on and has the stamina for a killing blow in the end. They haven’t been held under 31 points yet and only Northwestern has scored more than 17.
Who to Watch on Offense
Jonathan Taylor – RB – I know it is shocking, but Wisconsin has an excellent running back with this freshman. He already has 767 yards and 9 touchdowns on the season. That’s enough to lead the Big Ten by almost 100 yards. As usual, he has a massive offensive line in front of him that averages about 6’6” and 320 pounds. The Badgers are going to dominate up front. That’s just a fact. It will be up to Purdue’s linebackers to plug the holes they create.
Alex Hornibrook – QB – After a while all the Wisconsin quarterbacks start to look alike. Hornibrook could be Scott Tolzein or Jim Sorgi back there handing off. He has done a serviceable job when asked to pass with 1,011 yards and 10 TDs against just four interceptions. With a near 65% completion percentage he is just about the perfect stereotypical Wisconsin quarterback.
Quentez Cephus – WR – Cephus has been a steady producer with 18 receptions for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns so far. He is not especially big at 6’1”, but he is the no. 1 option in the passing game and is good for at least 3-4 catches per game.
Troy Fumigali – TE – Fumigali is regarded as the best tight end in college football and could be a first round NFL draft pick in April. He is tied with Cephus with 18 receptions to lead the team and he has 267 yards and 3 touchdowns. At 6’6” and 248 Purdue has no one that can match up with his size.
Who to Watch on Defense
D’Cota Dixon – S – Dixon was once a high school teammate of Raheem Mostert, but he is now one of the best safeties in the Big Ten. He leads the team with 36 tackles and he also has 1.5 sacks and an interception. He is an all-around safety that can come up and defend the run as well as defend the pass. He started all 14 games last year and had 4 interceptions.
T.J. Edwards – LB – The inside linebacker has 29 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions on the season as one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers. He can defend the run and the pass extremely well and will cover the middle of the field just about as well as anyone can ask.
Garret Dooley – LB – Dooley leads the team with 4.5 sacks, which is just half a sack less than what Purdue has as a team. He does this as a blitzing outside linebacker that is also disruptive against the run. He leads Wisconsin in tackles for loss with 7.5.
Overall Defense – I am just going to put this here because it is the best way to tell what we’re up against. Wisconsin has the best run defense in the conference at 81.4 yards per game. That’s better than Michigan, who completely shut down Purdue’s running game. They are second in the Big Ten with 8 interceptions and they give up a conversion on third down only 30% of the time. Their 17 team sacks are second in the conference behind only Michigan and Ohio State.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Rafael Gaglianone – K – He hasn’t been called on much this season, but he is a solid 5 of 6 with a long of 37 yards.
Anthony Lotti – P – he also has not been called on much, but he averages 41.35 yards per punt with 7 of his 20 attempts downed inside the 20.
This is a tall task. I have no doubt Purdue will be much better coached against the Badgers than it has been in years, but this is still a really, really good team playing at home. We managed to hang with Michigan for three quarters, but we were at home and they have a much worse offense than Wisconsin. The Badgers are perfectly content to keep handing the ball off and wearing us down all game long with Taylor. They have Fumigali to hit on play action too.
Defensively this is a stout front and Purdue’s only chance is to hit early for a couple of scores kind of like we did at Missouri. Even then, there are no guarantees. Utah State led 10-0 after a quarter and the Wisconsin defense didn’t let them do anything in the final 45 minutes. If anything, Purdue’s best defense is to keep the Wisconsin offense safely on the sideline where it can’t wear us down. Wisconsin dominates in time of possession at more than 35 minutes per game. The longer Purdue has the ball, the better.
This is going to be a tough game to win, but we knew that. The good news is that if Purdue wins it becomes the favorite to win the Big Ten West. Laugh at that if you must, but who else is as good as Wisconsin in the West? We already beat Minnesota. Northwestern and Nebraska look questionable at best. Iowa already has two losses. Illinois is still Illinois. Wisconsin is probably going to win the West in a walk and they’ll probably win this game too.
Still, Brohm has us thinking we have at least a small chance on Saturday, and that is better than we have had in years against these guys.