For the first time in 14 years Purdue enters a game as a ranked team. The next step is to stay there. Purdue only spent a single week in the top 25 in 2007, losing at home to Ohio State in a nationally televised night game. The last time it won a game as ranked team was 2005, when it won at Arizona in week 2. A six game losing streak followed, and only that single appearance in 2007 and this week’s appearance have been our lone dalliances with the top 25.
In order to stay Purdue has to finally top a team that has owned it for much of the last two decades. The Wisconsin Badgers have often not been kind to Purdue during their current 14 game winning streak. Of those 14 losses, 11 were by double digits, and eight were by 20 or more points. The closest we have come was the triple overtime 2018 loss, where Jeff Brohm should have gone for 2 at the end of the second overtime since Jonathon Taylor was safely on the sidelines and we had Rondale Moore needing three yards for the win.
We may never get as good of a chance to end this streak. Wisconsin is not WISCONSIN this year. They have a struggling offense (but a very stout defense). We’re playing at home with momentum from last week’s a victory. A Purdue win kicks down a door to a good bowl game we thought was closed after the Minnesota loss. It is not the must win I thought it would be two weeks ago, but getting this one makes a postseason appearance very likely.
2020 Record: 4-3
2021 Record: 3-3, 2-1
Bowl Result: Won Duke’s Mayo Bowl 42-28 over Wake Forest
Blog Representation: Bucky’s 5th Quarter
Series with Purdue: Wisconsin leads 50-29-8
Last Purdue win: 26-23 at Wisconsin on 10/18/2003
Last Wisconsin win: 45-24 at Wisconsin on 11/23/2019
Odds: According to DraftKings Sports Book Wisconsin is a 2.5 point favorite
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (59-22 in 8th season at Wisconsin, 78-41 overall)
Their Season So Far
Wisconsin has played three top 25 teams and three unranked teams. They have lost all three games against ranked teams. In those three losses, the Badger offense failed them. Against Penn State they had three turnovers, with two interceptions coming on the final two possessions as Wisconsin was driving to take the lead in a 16-10 loss. Against Notre Dame turnovers were again an issue. Wisconsin had five to Notre Dame’s one, with the last two being returned for a touchdown in a 41-13 loss. They had three turnovers in a 38-17 loss to Michigan, but the offense gained only 210 yards.
The defense has been mostly stout, however. They have a shutout of Illinois, and they held Army in check last week before winning 20-14. They did hold a decent Eastern Michigan to seven in a 34-7 win. To me, this looks like a slightly worse version of Iowa. On paper, the defense is even better (minus the interceptions), but the offense is worse.
Who to Watch on Offense
The offense is mostly bad. Wisconsin is 13th in the league in scoring offense at 19.7 points per game, only ahead of Illinois. They are 12th in passing at 161.7 yards per game, ahead of Minnesota and Illinois. As expected, they are a strong running team, but not as strong as in years past. They are 4th in the conference at 207 yards per game. In terms of passing, they continue a trend of Purdue facing very bad passing games. They are 117th out of 130 teams nationally, and that is with the four traditional “all pass, no run” triple option teams of Army, navy, Air Force, and Georgia Southern at the bottom. They are near UConn (119th), Minnesota (121st), and Illinois (122nd) to give you an idea of what to expect. Iowa is also 102nd and Oregon State is 96th.
Chez Mellusi – RB – Yep, Wisconsin has a good running back running behind a massive offensive line. Mellusi has 543 yards and three touchdowns. He went for 145 against Illinois, who had a defense that held Purdue’s ground game in check. He has been over 100 yards in three games this year, but had just 66 last week. Braelon Allen also has 288 yards and 3 TDs. Thankfully, Jonathan Taylor is gone, but he is down the road with the Colts, so I am wary.
Graham Mertz – QB – It’s bad QB alert. Mertz started last year strong with five TDs against Illinois, so he does have talent. This year he is 80 of 144 for 893 yards and just two touchdowns against seven interceptions. He has also been sacked eight times. He has -16 yards rushing in 22 carries, but does have two touchdowns on the ground. Wisconsin fans are concerned with George Karlaftis getting pressure on him, so if that can happen, he’ll make some mistakes.
Danny Davis III – WR – The man who was critical in Wisconsin’s comeback in 2018 is still there. He had a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to send that game to overtime, and he is Wisconsin’s leading receiver with 18 catches for 241 yards. Kendric Pryor and Jake Ferguson also have similar numbers, and those three have the vast majority of Wisconsin’s receptions.
Who to Watch on Defense
This game will be decided on strength vs. strength. Purdue’s rushing offense is the worst in the conference, and Wisconsin’s run defense is the best. They also have the best pass defense at 161.5 yards per game. The second best is our own Boilermakers. Purdue has given up only three passing touchdowns total on the season, and two were against Notre Dame. In terms of scoring defense Purdue is second in the league, giving up 14 points per game, just barely behind Penn State. These are two very good defenses with Purdue having a solid passing game and Wisconsin having a decent running game.
Nick Herbig – LB – Herbig has been good coming off the edge and getting to the quarterback, which is a concern for Purdue. He has 3.5 sacks and 22 tackles. He also has for pass breakups on the season. Purdue’s offensive line was a lot better last week against Iowa, giving up just one sack, but it is still a concern.
Leo Chenal – LB – Chenal leads the team with 30 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles. He is a steady producer who still had 40 tackles in last year’s abbreviated season. Along with Herbig and Jack Sanborn, the Badgers have one of the best linebacker trios in the conference. All three are good against both the run and the pass.
Faion Hicks – CB – Hicks will likely have the unenviable task of covering David Bell. He has six pass breakups on the season and 11 tackles. He is the best corner on a team that already has a very good pass defense. Scott Nelson will anchor the middle with 21 tackles and two pass breakups.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Purdue’s return coverage last week was very bad. We only got lucky that Iowa ran into the line twice to turn the ball over on downs at a critical moment after a big kickoff return and threw another interception after a long punt return. As always, Purdue needs improvement in the punting game.
Andy Vujnovich – P – Iowa never really got to use Tory Taylor as a weapon last week, but Purdue faces another good punter in Vujnovich. He is getting more than 46 yards per punt and has pinned eight inside the 20.
Collin Larsh – K – Larsh is 7 of 9 on field goals with a long of 43. With a game that will likely be low scoring having a solid kicker is an edge. Mitchell Fineran had his second miss last week, but is still 10 of 12 for Purdue.
Points will be at a premium. Mertz has not proven himself this year against good defenses and Purdue is finally blessed with a good defense. I really like that Wisconsin’s passing game is in line with the ones we have faced far. The running game is still strong. It is no secret what Wisconsin is going to do. They are going to run and hope to hit on some playaction. It is Purdue’s job to hold them to third and long and make Mertz make plays under pressure.
It feels like this is a “first to 20” game, as several have been for Purdue so far. If Purdue can get a lead like last week I don’t know if Wisconsin has the offense to catch up. Can Purdue continue to ride the offensive momentum it generated last week? Do we go with a three quarterback system against hoping to baffle a good defense? Wisconsin has not had the turnover luck Iowa did with only two interceptions, but they are still dangerous.
If Purdue truly figured some things out offensively I like our chances, but it is still Wisconsin. That 14 game streak is a specter looming over everything. If we’re going to end it, the time is now.