It has been an eventful season in Madison so far, so who better to hear about it than from one of their elite level bloggers. Tyler Hunt of SB Nation’s Bucky’s 5th Quarter is here to talk about the Badgers and examine why they are struggling this year:
T-Mill: Wisconsin has the longest winning streak of any single opponent over Purdue at 15 games and counting. Is that really in danger this weekend?
Tyler: Honestly, I don’t know. I know that is a crappy answer but I TRULY DONT KNOW. This team is so confusing and I think that is what makes it so frustrating. One weekend the Badgers come out and look incredible on both sides of the football and the next weekend they come out and look like a completely different football team. Against Northwestern Graham Mertz and company came out and slung it around the yard and the next week the Badgers looked scared to pass against just as bad a secondary. I don’t get this team at all and having this much inconsistency is not something you usually see at Wisconsin. To me, I think this game looks like a loss but I have thought the Badgers could get knocked off by Purdue the last couple years and they have found a way to pull it out. I have become so numb from this season that nothing would shock me anymore.
T-Mill: The Badgers are an uncharacteristic 3-4 and 1-3 in the Big Ten. What has happened and how shocking was the Paul Chryst firing?
Tyler: I think a lot has happened which has led to the Badgers struggling. Firstly, Wisconsin is built off of a strong defensive identity. Wisconsin fans expect this to be a top-25 defense (at worst) every single season. As they should! It has been for years. That said, this defense is not the same as past defenses and that makes it harder to win when you don’t have a defense that you can count on to win you a game and bail your offense out. The defense hasn’t been horrendous, but it hasn’t been the Wisconsin we are used to seeing. The other identity Wisconsin is built on is running the football behind their big, physical offensive line, and that unit has lacked too. This Badger line is not Wisconsin’s line of old and it hasn’t been for a few years now. When your two pillar identities aren’t working it’s hard to win football games. Take that, and sprinkle in some silly turnovers and penalties and you’ve got a 3-4 football team.
As for the Paul Chryst firing, I was shocked at the timing of it but not at the fact that it happened. I thought it could happen at the season’s end and I was one who thought it SHOULD happen at some point. After the Washington State loss, I said Wisconsin was backsliding and has been for some time and people thought it was crazy. It wasn’t. The Badgers weren’t recruiting, they weren’t developing players as well, and they weren’t evolving with the game on and off the field. That gets you canned and I give kudos to AD Chris Mcintosh for seeing it and making the change.
T-Mill: You guys still have Braelon Allen though and I know what Wisconsin backs do to Purdue. He’s going for at least 250 yards, isn’t he?
Tyler: The Badgers do still have Braelon Allen. He’s been the bright spot this season and I am guessing he is going to come out hungry after his overtime fumble put the Badgers in a tough spot last week. He’s a player that feeds off emotion and I think you’ll see him fired up to make up for his mistake. 250 might be kind with the way the offensive line is playing, but Wisconsin backs have had some recent success against Purdue and Allen can do some special things when he’s on the way he can be.
T-Mill: The defensive numbers aren’t terrible, but Illinois out-Wisconsin’d you. What happened?
Tyler: I think this kind of goes back to the first question where we just don’t know. As you said, the numbers aren’t terrible. Wisconsin isn’t REALLY BAD at any one specific thing on defense but they are also not very good at any one specific thing. They are dead in the middle of most categories which is, again, unlike Wisconsin. Usually, they are great in all phases and that has not been the case this year. One week you are getting gashed on the ground by Illinois and a couple of weeks later you’re getting torn up against the pass of Michigan State. In a way, I wish Wisconsin was good at at least one phase of their defense because at least then you’d know what to kind of expect. Being incredibly average in all phases means Wisconsin could struggle any which way and lose this game.
T-Mill: Graham Mertz really struggled against a bad Michigan State pass defense last week. Can he get on track this week against a Purdue defense that has been feast or famine?
Tyler: Graham Mertz is truly an enigma. One week he can have a career game against Northwestern and the next week he can come out against an even worse secondary and look like a complete shell of the player that was the previous week. I don’t get it. I think part of it is the playcalling being completely inconsistent but I am also tired of making excuses for Graham Mertz. I have been an apologist for him for far too long now. All that said, I do think Mertz could get back on track here and come out and win this football game. I do think he has been better this season and I think he has shown he can make some special throws at times but he can also get himself into trouble at times. Maybe you sense a theme here.... inconsistency is this teams plague.
T-Mill: What does Purdue need to do in order to avoid more of the same against Wisconsin?
Tyler: I think for Purdue to win this football game they have to keep Braelon Allen in check. If he’s able to run wild it changes the whole identity for Wisconsin because you then have to load the box to try and stop him and that opens things up for the pass. However, if you can keep him in check it puts pressure on Mertz to move the football consistently and I am not sure if he can do that.
I think the other thing Purdue has to do is avoid turnovers. If you look at all three of Wisconsin’s wins they forced turnovers that put them in good spots. Northwestern moved the ball against Wisconsin but they turned it over multiple times which killed their drives. If Purdue wants to win this game I think they’ll have to play clean in that area and keep their drives going and turn them into points.