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Purdue at Wisconsin Preview

Winning in Madison is going to be a very tall order.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s faint bowl hopes rest on a fourth string walk-on quarterback walking into Camp Randall Stadium and breaking a 13-game winning streak against the team that has kicked Purdue around more than any other team since The Fumble. It would also be Purdue’s first road victory over a top 25 team since 2010 at Northwestern if you go by the coaches poll (they were No. 25, but unranked in the AP poll that week). The last time Purdue beat a top 25 team in the AP Poll on the road was our most recent victory over the Badgers: October 18, 2003 26-23.

Aidan O’Connell has exceeded all expectations so far. He has led game-winning drives in the final 2 minutes of each of the last two games. It is possible no Purdue quarterback ever has done that. Elijah Sindelar had a pair of 4th quarter, under 2 minutes left comeback drives against Minnesota and Arizona in 2017. Drew Brees was a bit of a master at it, performing such drives against Ohio State and Michigan in 2000 and Michigan State and Kansas State in 1998.

That’s the list of Purdue quarterbacks with multiple game-winning drives in the final two minutes over the last two decades. Asking O’Connell to do it again would be incredible, so maybe he can just have Purdue hold a lead the entire game this time.

Of course, that is a tall order. The Badgers have the longest winning streak any single opponent has ever had over Purdue. It should have ended last year, but the triple overtime loss at home feels like a missed opportunity. Getting a win in Madison is an extremely tall order even though Jeff Brohm has actually made us competitive against the Badgers.

2018 Record: (8-5, 5-4 Big Ten West)

Bowl Result: Beat Miami 35-3 in Pinstripe Bowl

Blog Representation: Bucky’s 5th Quarter

Series with Purdue: Wisconsin leads 49-29-8

Last Purdue win: 26-23 at Wisconsin on 10/18/2003

Last Wisconsin win: 47-44 (3OT) at Purdue on 11/17/2018

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (50-14 in 5th season at Wisconsin, 69-33 overall)

2019 so far for Wisconsin

For a good portion of this season Wisconsin’s defense has been excellent. They did not give up a single point in all three of their non-conference games. In conference play they started strong, beating Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan State, but their season took a turn with a stunning 24-23 loss at Illinois. They followed that with a 38-7 loss at Ohio State, but recovered to edge Iowa 24-22 and beat Nebraska 37-21. As a result, they are still in the race to win the Big Ten West. All they need to do is beat Purdue and win at Minnesota next week.

It is the defense that has me concerned. They are sixth nationally, giving up just 13.4 points per game. Technically, Purdue has played a tougher defense in Iowa at 12.4 points per game (and exceeded expectations in scoring 20 points), but it still won’t be easy. The Wisconsin offense has also been solid, checking in at 30th nationally at 34.6 points per game. Also, they have a player that has basically owned Purdue.

Who to Watch on Offense

Jonathan Taylor – RB – Taylor is one of the best running backs in college football history. In less than three full seasons he has rushed for 5,634 yards, which is seventh on the NCAA’s all-time list. He has more rushing yards through three seasons than any other player ever. Purdue has given him a huge boost towards that, as well. He has rushed for 540 yards in two games against Purdue, including 321 last year, which was 29 yards short of the record for a single back against Purdue.

Wisconsin’s M.O. is very simple every year: have an excellent running back run behind five 6’7” 320 pound road graders. After Ohio State held him to 52 yards Taylor has rushed for over 450 in the last two games combined. Unless we can borrow Ohio State’s front 7 for a day Taylor is very likely going for 200 plus. At least in 2017 he lost a fumble against us.

Jack Coan – QB – Coan made his first career start last year against Purdue and, even with Taylor going nuts, it was his two fourth quarter touchdown passes to Danny Davis III that erased a 14 point lead with less than 7 minutes left. He is completing better than 72% of his passes this year for 1,826 yards and 13 TDs against 3 INTs. That’s a very “Wisconsin quarterback” line, especially with Taylor doing his thing.

Quintez Cephus – WR – Cephus is far and away the top receiving target with 35 receptions for 527 yards and 4 TDs. The 6’1” junior missed all of last year with an injury, but was also solid in 2017. For good measure, Davis is also back and, of course, Wiscosnin has a solid tight end with Jake Ferguson (24-280-2).

Who to Watch on Defense

Chris Orr – LB – Orr is one of the best linebackers in the country. He leads the team with 55 tackles and he has 10 sacks, which is second in the conference. Given that Purdue’s offensive line has struggled all season long this is a major concern.

Zack Baun – LB – The Badgers don’t have just one excellent linebacker, but two. Baun is third in the conference with 9.5, so that’s a pair of linebackers coming through an already solid defensive line. Baun and Orr are a big reason that Wisconsin barely gives up 100 yards rushing per game and Purdue is still well behind in rushing offense at 76.8 yards per game.

Eric Burrell – S – Burrell is an excellent safety with 35 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. Thanks to the defensive line and linebackers in front of him he does not need to do a lot, but he is definitely a playmaker.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Colin Larsh – K – Larsh has been a steady kicker, hitting on 10 of 15 field goals with a long of 44 yards.

Aron Cruickshank – KR – It is a good thing that J.D. Dellinger can get touchbacks because Cruickshank is the Big Ten’s best kickoff returner. He averages a league best 28.4 yards per return and has a touchdown.

Game Outlook

This is going to be really, really tough. Purdue is going to have to play a virtually perfect game and take advantage of multiple mistakes by the Badgers. Two years ago in Madison that happened. Purdue forced multiple red zone turnovers and even blocked a punt, but managed just nine points. This year Wisconsin is +4 on turnovers while Purdue is -9. Coan just does not throw interceptions and Taylor is Taylor. Purdue has shown it is completely incapable of even slowing him down.

Do Rondale Moore and Lorenzo Neal play? They have at least been upgraded to “they need to practice”, which is probably the most optimistic we have been about them in some time. Neal can still have this year as a redshirt and return next year, while Moore loses that ability if he plays one more play this year. If both play, that will help, but will it be enough? Rondale was incredible last year against the Badgers with 9 receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Neal would greatly help the run defense, too.

I still think it is an incredible longshot though. The Badgers have too much to play for. A win means they have a winner-take-all game in Minneapolis next week. Would they be looking past Purdue? Unlikely. If Purdue wins this game and keeps its faint bowl hopes alive it will be the most shocking win in a very long time for Purdue because even against Ohio State last year we were playing well at home and had the “Ohio State in Ross-Ade” magic. This would be ending a 13-game losing streak to a team that has dominated us like no other all while ending a 15-year road losing streak to top 25 teams. Oh, and without several of our best players, too.