Wisconsin vs Purdue
The Boilermakers ride into Madison coming off a heart attack of a win at home against Nebraska, extending their winning streak to four. They currently stand at 5-2 (3-1) and are sitting just behind Illinois for top spot in the Big 10 West. The passing game looks great, points are aplenty, and the proverbial train is rolling.
A win for Purdue is going to take an air assault from an offense clicking quite well in the passing game; the Boilermakers possess the 16th-ranked passing offense in the nation against a group of Badgers sitting just outside the top 50 in passing defense. Aidan O’Connell is still regularly finding Charlie Jones, the one guy most defenses should be looking to stop the most with double teams, but the partners in crime keep getting away with it. I see Brohms Jeff and Brian scheming to get some mismatches with the sure-handed tight end Payne Durham, who’s second behind Jones in receptions and targets this season, against a middling Badgers secondary.
O’Connell will more than likely exceed 35 pass attempts, as Wisconsin’s clear defensive strength is their rush defense. If Purdue’s constantly transitioning OL can provide Devin Mockobee a big gap or two, I like Mockobee’s chances in making defenders miss in the secondary for some good extra chunk yardage. But as they seemingly always do, Wisconsin boasts a pretty-darn-good front seven. Purdue’s OL has their work cut out for them.
It’s hard to win on the road against the Badgers whether they’re struggling or not, and the Boilermakers know firsthand. Wisconsin has a fifteen-game winning streak against Purdue, but the good guys’ last win against this week’s opponent did come on the road...albeit in 2003. Some of these freshman weren’t even born yet.
That said, Purdue has clearly played better overall football of the two teams over the course of the season. If the offense can continue to fire on all cylinders, I can see Wisconsin’s defense committing to hinder the passing game, thus allowing Brohm to provide single-back sets where Wisconsin reads and expects pass, thus granting Mockobee more room in space, be it a designed run or a swing pass to the tailback out of Boonville, Indiana. Switching up pace for this pass-heavy offense will be key in what would be an important win in keeping up with Illinois in the race to the top of the Big 10 West.
It can’t be ignored: the Badgers’ year hasn’t gone quite as they hoped. The preseason #18 and overwhelming favorite to be winner of the West possesses just one conference win and sits at the bottom of the division. In a surprise to many, they even fired Paul Chryst along the way.
Coming off a wild overtime loss to Michigan State (that was a fun one, sorry Badgers), it’s apparent that the 2022 edition of a typically tight, disciplined, organized offensive unit looks lost at times and can’t quite get it together. I personally expected a bit more out of Graham Mertz this season, and while he’s no slouch, at times his passes have looked more questionable than I thought they’d look in his second year under center. His play can best and most simply be described as inconsistent, partially due to the fact that their offensive line isn’t bullying at the line of scrimmage like they’re accustomed to. Wisconsin sits at 3-4 (1-3) heading into the matchup.
The key battle I see here is Purdue’s 17th-ranked rush defense against Wisconsin’s explosive pair of tailbacks Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. Those two have combined for just north of 2000 yards and seventeen touchdowns behind an offensive line that doesn’t necessarily look quite like the brick wall of a Badgers line we’re used to seeing. Granted, Purdue’s defensive stats have been bolstered by a schedule involving some less-than-dominant rushing attacks, but one way or another, the Boilermakers are giving up under 100 yards per game on the ground. This is a bend-but-don’t-break Purdue defense going up against a disappointed but capable, and therefore most likely hungry, Badgers offense.
Even Wisconsin Interim Head Coach Jim Leonard has said it: “You’re seeing some guys in bigger roles than maybe they’re ready for, in some cases — across the board, not just talking offensive line...I think there are guys that have been thrown into roles out of necessity that may be a little bit over their head.”
Defensively, if Wisconsin can’t slow down the O’Connell-to-Jones train, as many have tried before, it’ll be a long day for the Badgers’ secondary. They’ll have to stay on their toes with the pacing of Purdue’s pass attack which can open up room for Devin Mockobee should Wisconsin’s secondary go all-in on trying to stop the pass. I know I said it earlier, but swing passes to Mockobee could be key in keeping the Boilermakers traveling into the red zone throughout the afternoon. And if Wisconsin’s shaky offense can’t stay on the field, I can see Mockobee having a career high game in total yardage.
I’m taking Purdue +2.5 in Madison.
This is a huge game for the Boilermakers if they want to contest for a spot in the Big 10 title game. It’s no small task to win on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers, but these aren’t the Badgers the general public is used to seeing for the better part of, well, a very long time. I predict Wisconsin’s offense having a bit of trouble staying on the field at times and that Purdue’s offense will eventually gas the Wisconsin D to pull away late on in a close game. We shall see.
The O/U for this matchup sits at 51.5, and I’ll take the over on that. I see this having a score line similar to last week’s 43-37 scare of a win over Nebraska, the other historically good red team in the West fallen on hard times.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.