Is this finally the year?
Back in 1997 Purdue had lost 11 straight games to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish had dominated us for years dating back to a 1985 win in West Lafayette. That was the previous longest win streak any school had over us until last year.
Last season Wisconsin won its 12th consecutive game over us in a bizarre 17-9 game. It seemed like the end zones were actively repelling both teams after two early Badger touchdowns. Wisconsin turned it over near the goal line twice. Purdue had a blocked punt that was sure to be a touchdown foiled by a pulled hamstring. All told, the Boilers managed only three field goals and it wasn’t mean to be.
It was one of the closer games in this series, recently, however, so many Purdue fans are hoping this is finally the year we turned the tables on the Badgers. We haven’t beaten them since Ben Jones knocked in a short field goal to beat them 26-23 back in 2003. We haven’t won in West Lafayette since 1997, when I was in high school. The infamous Fumble started this streak back in 2004 and we haven’t managed to top 20 points since. This is a different Wisconsin team, however. They are banged up. They have underachieved. After starting the year in the top 5 they are unranked and already out of the Big Ten West race.
This is the best chance we have had in a very long time to end the hex they have over us.
2018 Record: 6-4, 4-3 Big Ten West
2017 Record: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten West (lost Big Ten title game to Ohio State)
Bowl Result: Won Orange Bowl 34-24 over Miami (FL)
Blog Representation: Bucky’s 5th Quarter
Series with Purdue: Wisconsin leads 48-29-8
Last Purdue win: 26-23 at Wisconsin on 10/18/2003
Last Wisconsin win: 17-9 at Wisconsin on 10/14/2017
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (40-11 in 4th year at Wisconsin, 59-30 in 7th year overall)
Who to Watch on Offense
The biggest question for Wisconsin is at the quarterback position. Alex Hornibrook has missed two of the last three games with a concussion, playing about half the Rutgers game and throwing a pair of interceptions. There is little question that the Badger offense is much better with him, but he is questionable this week. Jack Coan has played in his place and has not been great. He is 34 of 58 for 282 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions with 6 sacks in the last three games combined. He only had 60 yards passing and two picks against Penn State last week. If Hornibrook is out, Purdue’s chances should be much better.
Jonathan Taylor – RB – The sophomore running back has been pretty much as advertised this year. After rushing for nearly 2,000 yards as a freshman a year ago he is over 1,500 yards this year with 12 touchdowns. In his career he has already rushed for more than 3,500 yards. Last season against Purdue he had 219 yards and a touchdown, with a 67-yard scoring run early in the game that set the tone. This season he has multiple games over 200 yards and only one under 100, against Northwestern a few weeks ago. If Coan plays the Badgers will rely even more on him.
Taiwan Deal – RB – In case Taylor gets tired Deal is a solid reserve. He has 480 yards and five touchdowns this season and was even over 100 yards against Illinois. I know it is shocking, but the Badgers are very run heavy. They are fifth nationally with 2,666 yards on the ground, but the passing game is 115th at 1,628 yards. This SHOULD be an easier game for our beleaguered pass defense.
Jake Ferguson – TE – Of course Wisconsin has a solid TE. Ferguson leads the team in receptions with 27 and has 379 yards and 3 TDs. A.J. Taylor is also a good receiver when they do choose to pass with 24 receptions for 406 yards and 3 TDs.
Who to Watch on Defense
Normally the Badger defense is stifling, but it has struggled this year. It is 67th against the run nationally and 29th against the pass. Of course, we faced a much worse defense last week in Minnesota and struggled to get anything going. The week before that we moved pretty well against a strong Iowa defense. If you can figure that out, more power to you. Ultimately, it probably comes down to which Purdue offense shows up this week. We cannot be as bad as last week and hope to win.
T.J. Edwards – LB – Edwards is a bit like our own Markus Bailey. He is a sure tackler with 76 stops on the year and 8.5 for loss. He also has three sacks and a pair of interceptions. He will play all over the field and has shown he can make plays behind the line of scrimmage too.
Ryan Connelly – LB – Connelly has very similar numbers to Edwards. He has one less tackle and the same number of sacks. Like Purdue, however, the defensive line has struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Badgers have 15 sacks as a team and the majority have come from linebackers on blitzes.
Zack Baun – LB – Yet another linebacker, Baun leads the team with a pair of interceptions and also has 2.5 sacks on the year. He is coming off of a very big week where he had three tackles for loss at Penn State.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Rafael Gaglianone – K – Gaglianone has long been one of the Big Ten’s better kickers. He is perfect on extra points and is 8 of 11 on field goals with a long of 42 this season.
Jack Dunn – PR – Dunn has been rather dangerous on punt returns, averaging better than 9 yards a return. We can’t let him escape and do damage, especially after we struggled so much on special teams against Iowa.
As I said above, we haven’t had this good of a chance to beat Wisconsin in a long time. We’re even a 4.5 point favorite at home after getting blown out by 31 points at Minnesota. That’s a lot of faith in us against this specific opponent. Many of our players weren’t even born the last time we beat Wisconsin in West Lafayette.
When Wisconsin has lost this year it is because the offense couldn’t score. In their three Big Ten losses they have scored 13, 17, and 10 points. If Purdue can hold them at that level I like our chances. In those last two losses they have had to play Coan at quarterback.
Of course, Purdue has its own issues to deal with. We were awful a week ago and the Louisville situation is definitely going to be a distraction. Can we overcome all that? Can David Blough get off to a good start? It seems like when he can lead a scoring drive in the first two possessions he is fine, but if not, he struggles. That will be critical. Purdue has to get points early. It needs more of a running game. It needs to feed off of another solid home crowd.
This is a big week. If we can end the Wisconsin hex and lock up a bowl bid before going to Bloomington it will be a huge step forward.