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Know Thy Opponent 2021: Wisconsin Badgers

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Wisconsin is probably still better than Purdue at football.

NCAA Football: Duke’s Mayo Bowl-Wake Forest vs Wisconsin Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

At this point it feels like the streak is in the heads of Purdue fans. Since 2003 the Badgers have won 14 straight against the Boilermakers. It is now the longest losing streak Purdue has ever had to one opponent. Even worse, there has only been real chance to end the streak, and that was the 2018 triple overtime loss where Purdue blew a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.

If Purdue is ever going to reach a Big Ten championship game it is going to have to end the streak. Since we share a division with the Badgers the ability to win said division is greatly diminished without a win over Wisconsin. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the league over the last two decades with six Big Ten championship games in 20 years. They are, indeed, the measuring stick for Purdue when it comes to the conference.

Wisconsin Badgers

2020 Record: 4-3

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

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (56-19 in 8th season at Wisconsin, 75-38 overall)

Last Season for the Badgers

Last year, with all the strangeness that happened, might have been Purdue’s best chance to end the streak. At the time the game was scheduled Purdue was 2-0 and riding pretty high. COVID issues with Wisconsin led to the game’s cancellation, and Purdue’s season went downhill from there.

Wisconsin’s season was all over the map. They pounded Illinois in the opener, then had two games cancelled due to COVID. They then beat Michigan, lost to Northwestern, then had another game postponed against Minnesota. That led to loss against Indiana and Iowa before they beat Minnesota in overtime in a rescheduled game and won their bowl game over Wake Forest.

When Wisconsin was good, it was very good. When it was bad, it lost some very winnable games like Indiana and Northwestern.

Wisconsin Offense

If you want to talk about ups and downs, just look at Wisconsin. In wins over Illinois, Michigan, and Wake Forest it scored at least 42 points in all three games. Against Illinois and Michigan they gave up only 18 points total. When they were good, they were generally pretty good. When they were bad, they scored 20 points total in losing to Indiana, Iowa, and Northwestern. That inconsistency had them almost exactly in the middle of the conference statistically.

Graham Mertz, he of his own logo thanks to NIL, had a decent season as a redshirt freshman quarterback. He had a great debut with 5 TD passes and just one incompletion against Illinois in the opener, but he only had four TDs in the final six games and just one in last four. His worst two games were against Northwestern and Indiana when he had just one TD and four picks.

It’s Wisconsin, so you know the other element of their offense. They will have a power running game behind a very large and deeply talented offensive line. At this point I am convinced they grow 6’7” 330 pound offensive linemen in a field behind Camp Randall Stadium. The history of Wisconsin running backs running wild on Purdue is also extensive. Logan Bruss will be the anchor of that line.

They need a running back though, and shockingly, Wisconsin did not have a strong ground game last season. They only averaged 164 yards per game and finished 7th in the league in rushing. While better than Purdue, that number and position is appallingly low. Jalen Berger ran for 301 yards and 2 TDs, but we have seen (far too many) years where that is an average single game against Purdue. He should be decent as the starter and have a much better year.

They also need more production from the receivers. Jack Dunn (28-255-1) and Chimire Dike (12-189-1) are the top two returning receivers. Dunn is a small-ish slot guy and Dike is more of an outside receiver. Danny Davis and Kendric Prior are also back from injury. Tight end Jake Ferguson is very good with 30 catches for 305 yards and 4 TDs.

Wisconsin Defense

The Badger defense was more than good enough last season for the team to be more successful. They were the number 1 rushing defense in the conference. Which is not a good sign since Purdue was last in rushing. They were third in giving up only 17.4 points per game and No.1 in total defense at under 300 yards per game. If the offense had just been better Wisconsin probably goes undefeated and plays Ohio State for the league title.

The run defense will be good again. Jack Sanbourn is an all-Big Ten caliber linebacker who had 52 tackles, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble last year. They also get transfer Thomas Brunner from Northern Illinois and get back Leo Chenal, who had 46 tackles with an interception and three sacks. This is a very good unit that can play well against the run and pass.

On the defense line Keeanu Benton is a world eater in the middle at 6’4” 313 pounds. On the end you have Nick Herbig and Noah Burks. They each had only one sack, but should be better with more playing time in 2021. Isaac Townsend is a very good transfer from Oregon.

The Badger secondary was pretty good last year with eight sacks from seven different players. They lost two critical starters with Rachad Wildgoose (He of getting B-buttoned into oblivion by Rondale Moore fame) headed to the NFL. Scott Nelson will be the focus at safety. Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams have both received Big Ten honors in their career, so Purdue’s passing game will be tested.

Wisconsin Special Teams

Collin Larsh only attempted seven field goals a year ago and connected on five of them. He did not have much range though with a long of 31. The punting game was okay with Andy Vujnovich averaging 41.6 yards per punt. He also returns.

In the return game wide receiver Devin Chandler had 156 yards on six attempts and had a decent long return of 59 yards. There wasn’t much in the punt return game though.

Game Outlook

Does Purdue get to see the good Wisconsin offense or the bad Wisconsin offense? If it can get the bad Wisconsin offense it has a chance. The streak has to end sometime, right?

The downside is that Purdue has long been at a talent deficit against the Badgers. It needs to out scheme them, get some points against a defense that is going to be very good, and hope Wisconsin has to throw to catch up. As usual, if Wisconsin has a lead and the running game going downhill it is going to be very hard for Purdue to win. Ending the streak means holding the run in check, something that no Purdue team in about 15 years has done.

Way-too-early Prediction

The streak continues. Yes, we get them at home. Yes, Purdue is going to be better in 2021. Yes, Wisconsin struggled last year. I still need to see it happen, especially after Purdue blew its best chance in 2018. At this point we might see a Purdue Final Four before a football win over Wisconsin.

Maybe we can convince them to play in Mackey, where they are 4-42. Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21