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Know Thy Opponent 2018: Wisconsin Badgers

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Wisconsin is trying to make it a baker’s dozen straight wins over Purdue.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When I was growing up my dad had a rationale when it came to getting season tickets for Purdue football. He used to say, “We get to see a lot of good football, unfortunately none of it is Purdue. We get to see Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State…” This was, of course, during the Akers/Colletto years where a 4-win season with the Bucket was considered a triumph.

Even in that time, no one did what Wisconsin has now done to Purdue.

As of last year the Badgers have now won 12 consecutive games against the Boilermakers. That is the longest streak of any opponent over us ever. Notre Dame only got to 11 between 1986 and 1997. Michigan’s longest win streak over us is only 9 games from 1985-1996. Ohio State’s is just 7. Iowa (9) and Penn State (8 and counting) have decent streaks over us, but the Badgers have had complete mastery of Purdue since “The Fumble”.

In this 12 game run Purdue has failed to score more than 20 points all 12 times. The fewest it has given up was 17, which was last year. Many of these games have been brutal. I visited Wisconsin in 2009 for a 37-0 beatdown that wasn’t even that close. Two years later Purdue gave up 62 points in a 62-17 loss. Wisconsin’s last visit to West Lafayette was a 49-20 loss where T.J. Watt had one of the most impressive pick-sixes you will ever see.

Is the tide turning though? Last year Purdue was really, really close to ending the run. It managed just three field goals, but a series of Badger mistakes gave Purdue every opportunity to steal the game. Yes, we needed luck to stay in it, but bad luck also cost us. Race Johnson pulling a hamstring while returning a blocked punt for a sure touchdown is some bad luck. Throwing an interception inside the 10 yard line down 8 with nine minutes left is some bad luck.

This year the game is back in West Lafayette. It is the final home game of the year and late enough that an upset could mean a trip to Indianapolis if things fall into place beforehand. This streak has to end sometime, so why not now?

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 (34-7 in 4th year at Wisocnsin, 53-26 in 7th year overall)

Last Season for the Badgers:

It is hard to argue with perfection. Last year the Badgers rolled through the regular season at 12-0 and had the ball with less than 3 minutes left, down 6, against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. With a playoff bid on the line Alex Hornibrook was intercepted on a desperation 4th and 20 pass. The Badgers went on to win the Orange Bowl 34-24 to complete an impressive 13-1 season, so it wasn’t all bad.

So what do they do for an encore? Well, they are going to be really good yet again. They have played in 5 of the 7 Big Ten championship games to this point and they are a heavy favorite to make it 6 in 8. No one is getting to Indy without going through them first. They’re going to be strong defensively with an excellent offensive line, solid running game, and a steady QB.

Basically, they’ll be Wisconsin again.

Wisconsin Offense

Offensively it really is the same old story for the Badgers. You can plug in Alex Hornibrook’s name for Jim Sorgi, Scott Tolzien, John Stocco, etc. Jonathan Taylor is just the next in the lineage of great Wisconsin running backs that dates seemingly back to 1342. Up front are five extremely large men that are very good at pushing other large men out of the way. A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis III are a pair of really good receivers that can get open when they get tired of handing off to Taylor for large gains.

Taylor was especially troublesome for Purdue last year. Like Montee Ball, Corey Clement, and Melvin Gordon before him Taylor absolutely torched us. His third carry went for a 67 yard touchdown. He finished with 219 yards on 30 carries as Wisconsin rushed for 299 yards on us. If not for a goal line fumble and two Hornibrook interceptions last year’s game would not have been as close. He finished the year with 1,977 yards and 13 scores, putting him on a path to break some pretty lofty career records.

Hornibrook should be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. When not handing off to a stable of backs that rushed for over 3,000 yards as a team he threw for 2,644 yards and 25 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He’s not exactly mobile (he finished with -101 yards rushing), but he doesn’t need to be. Troy Fumagalli is gone as one of the top tight ends in the country, but there will be another.

Once again, the Wisconsin offensive line is going to be excellent. Beau Benzschawel is a returning All-American at guard. David Edwards was an All-American at tackle. Michael Deiter was an all-Big Ten guard, and Tyler Biadasz was a third Team all-Big Ten center. Jon Dietzen was the “worst” of the group and he is a two-year returning starter. It is the Big Ten’s best offensive line.

Wisconsin Defense

The Badgers got it done last season with one of the best defenses in the country. If you can hold a team under 20 points you win a lot of games. In the regular season only Northwestern scored more than 17. They gave up 13.2 points per game, which was third nationally behind only Clemson and Alabama and tied with Georgia.

Here is what Bill C.’s preview had to say about the unit as a whole:

Leonhard heads into his third year as a full-time coach, and he’s already led Wisconsin’s best defense in more than 60 years. How on earth do you top that? The former UW walk-on and 10-year NFL defender spent 2015 studying the coaching craft and 2016 as defensive backs coach, and Chryst unfathomably decided Leonhard was already ready for the DC position. Even less fathomable: Chryst was right.

Wisconsin has excellent linebackers. Ryan Connelly (88 tackles, 11 for loss) and T.J. Edwards (81 tackles, 11 for loss, 4 interceptions) cause trouble everywhere. Andrew Van Ginkel (39 tackles, 6.5 sacks) is a terror at getting into the backfield.

Up front the Badgers must replace both of its top defensive ends. Isaiah Loudermilk is expected to be the next great D End though. In Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme the strength will come from the linebacker position, however.

In the secondary there is experience with safety D’Cota Dixon back. He had 53 tackles and an interception last season. Dontye Carriere-Williams is the top returning cornerback after the top two left. Eric Burrell and Scott Nelson should also play a much larger role in the secondary.

Wisconsin Special Teams

Both the kicker and punter return for Wisconsin. Anthony Lotti averaged 40 yards per punt last season, but his only blocked punt came against Purdue (and was nearly a game-changer). Rafael Gaglianone was 16 of 18 on field goals with a long of 52, so he is one of the best kickers in the league.

In the return game A.J. Taylor was serviceable on kickoffs at 23.5 yards per return. Nick Nelson was a great punt returner with 8.6 yards per return and one touchdown.

Game Outlook

Last year’s game was really one of missed opportunities for both teams. The Badgers looked like they were going to blow Purdue out with 14 points in the first 9 minutes, then the defense stiffened and Purdue gave up just three the rest of the way. Things turned Purdue’s way when Da’Wan Hunte intercepted Hornibrook and returned it 42 yards into Wisconsin territory, but down 14-3 Purdue got no points off of it.

Purdue took over at the Badger 15 after the blocked punt and got no points thanks to a missed field goal. The Boilers only managed a field goal off of an interception in the third quarter by Ezechukwu. After fumbling inside the five on the first play of the fourth quarter Wisconsin was in trouble as Purdue drove the other way. The Boilers were later intercepted on 2nd and goal at the 7 with a chance to tie.

To have a chance in this one Purdue is going to need some of that luck again, and it is going to have to cut down on those mistakes. It is going to have to convert on the chances it is given. We can possibly play the Badgers close again, but it will take better execution to finally get this in the win column.

Way-too-Early Prediction

I used to fear this game. I used to chalk it up as an automatic loss because Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell couldn’t even be competitive against Wisconsin. Last year Brohm showed me we can at least make it a game. They are still a better team, but I feel like we can at least make them earn this one. Wisconsin 27, Purdue 17