Is Purdue on the brink of a program-changing upset? The last time it lost 11 straight games to a team it happened. That 1997 Notre Dame game changed everything, and a shocking upset in Madison on Saturday would do the same. Since there is even a small chance at an upset we spoke with Jake Kocorowski of Bucky’s 5th Quarter this week about the Badgers:
T-Mill: Wisconsin has won 11 straight against Purdue, tied for the longest win streak of any opponent over the Boilermakers. Is there anything that keeps this game from being the bloodletting that most of the previous 11 games have been (although Purdue's last road victory over a ranked team was at Wisconsin in 2003)?
Jake: There are a couple of factors that have hampered Wisconsin at times this year with either slow starts or letting opponents stay in the game. UW has given up the ball, which has resulted in opponents' points. That happened against both Utah State and Florida Atlantic, forcing the the defense into defending a short field and ultimately gave way to touchdowns. The Badgers' defense has stiffened up since then, but the pick-six thrown by starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook allowed Nebraska to tie up the game in the third quarter last week.
Defensively, it should be interesting how coordinator Jim Leonhard's unit communicates against Jeff Brohm's offense. If any calls are missed, the Boilermakers could take advantage with some big plays.
Wisconsin can be its own worst enemy. If it get on track with faster starts and not shoot itself in the foot, they could be one of the most explosive offenses in the country and the stingiest defenses as well.
T-Mill: Purdue's run defense (and defense in general) has dramatically improved and Wisconsin has started slow in a few games. Is that enough for Purdue to hang around for a half?
Jake: I think it could. As mentioned earlier, the offense outside of the BYU game hasn't completely clicked for all four quarters. Purdue has outscored opponents 92-41 in the first two quarters. Wisconsin has also outscored their opponents 82-50, but then have turned it on after halftime, only allowing 21 points from the third quarter on. If they're going to get to Wisconsin in the game, it will be at the very least in the first half.
T-Mill: Given the current state of the West, is this a de facto West Division playoff?
Jake: I could see this being the de facto game, especially given the state of the West with Nebraska, Northwestern and to an extent Iowa floundering. I actually thought the Wildcats would have been the biggest challengers to the Badgers at the start of the season, but I don't think they'll play a factor in the end considering their start.
Iowa poses a great challenge every time they face Wisconsin in their rivalry, so that game on Nov. 11 should be a physical battle. However, the Hawkeyes also face Ohio State the week prior to the match-up against the Badgers and they already have two losses. So long story short, it may be a little early to say that, but looking down the road, it very well could be. For Saturday at the very least, it will be an affair featuring two of the most intriguing and explosive teams in the division.
T-Mill: How does Wisconsin expect to handle different looks at quarterback as Jeff Brohm has somehow mastered the two QB system?
Jake: The Badgers won't tip their hand to us media, but when speaking with players and Leonhard earlier on Wednesday, they praised both Elijah Sindelar and David Blough for their success in the passing game. The key does start in stopping the run game first and foremost (like Wisconsin always tries to do), but then turning up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They didn't necessarily get to Tanner Lee last week in the win against Nebraska (one sack for the game), but they're averaging 3.4 per game for the season--including eight against Northwestern two weeks ago. Outside linebackers Leon Jacobs (one sack, 5.5 tackles for loss) and Garret Dooley (4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) have played extremely well in taking the place of Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt.
Purdue has given up 17 sacks through three games, second-worst in the conference. That includes nine combined against Michigan and Minnesota to start the season. If Wisconsin can make the quarterbacks uncomfortable, it will disrupt the passing attack.
T-Mill: Is there a concern of a bit of a letdown after Wisconsin got itself a nice road win at Nebraska? What are some of the Badgers' weaknesses?
Jake: Wisconsin prides itself on the taking it one game at a time, and though it was a nice road win in Lincoln, they've turned the page to a very dangerous Purdue team. I think the Badgers respect the Boilermakers and know they have to play their best to stay undefeated in pursuit of a division and possibly conference title (and quite honestly, maybe a College Football Playoff berth if they get past the East Division representative).
We hit on the weaknesses before with turnovers and not starting off fast. There were some uncharacteristic penalties against Nebraska, but I'll also note the secondary has given up some bigger plays yet the defense is still 26th in the nation in passing yards allowed (192.4 per contest). I think the best is yet to come for the defensive backs, led by strong safety D'Cota Dixon, this season.
T-Mill: How do you see this game playing out?
Jake: I think Wisconsin pulls away, like it has during most of this season, in the second half. Purdue will test Wisconsin's defensively, and UW's offense will face a physical squad on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. However, this team has a more experienced offensive line (despite both left guards Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi questionable), a substantial rushing attack with a freshman phenom in Jonathan Taylor leading the way, and a formidable defense that is top 5-worthy.