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Know Thy Opponent 2022: Wisconsin Badgers

In a shocking twist Wisconsin is going to have a power run game.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

No one has ever had as long of a winning streak over Purdue was Wisconsin currently has. Since the infamous Fumble in 2004 the Badgers have won 15 straight against Purdue. Notre Dame never did that. Ohio State never did that. Michigan never did that. Those three opponents have regularly been on Purdue’s schedule for over a century and they have comfortable all-time margins against us, but they never reached 15 straight. They never even reached 12. Michigan won nine in a row at one point. Ohio State has only had a streak of seven in a row as their longest stretch. Notre Dame won 11 in a row from 1986-96, but that was the previous record before Wisconsin started their current dominance.

It has been different with the Badgers. When this streak started things were pretty even as they held a 35-29-8 edge. Most of the recent wins have been the same. They have a talented running back that runs for a bunch of yards behind a gigantic offensive line and a competent quarterback who can hit on playaction. Occasionally they throw in a jet sweep. It’s been the same formula for the last 15 games and it has worked quite well. Most of those 15 games weren’t even close.

If this is the final season of the Big Ten West Purdue has to end the streak if it wants to reach the Big Ten championship game. On paper, the final four games are much easier, so if Purdue can get out of this game in the driver’s seat for the division there is a real chance we will get a 13th game in Indy. The Badgers are the final boss. They have been in our way for years. We know what they are going to do because it is always the same.

Can Purdue finally end it?

Wisconsin badgers

2021 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten

Bowl Result: Beat Arizona State 20-13 in Las Vegas Bowl

Blog Representation: Bucky’s 5th Quarter

Series with Purdue: Wisconsin leads 51-29-8

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

Last Wisconsin win: 30-13 at Purdue on 10/23/2021

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (65-23 in 8th year at Wisconsin, 84-42 overall)

Last Season for the Badgers

Wisconsin didn’t win the West! The Badgers have been the gold standard in the Big Ten West, winning the division four times in the first six years after the division was formed. They also won the Big Ten title in the first two years of the old Legends and Leaders days, so they have played in six of the 11 Big Ten Championship games. They got off to a slow start last year at 1-3 with losses to Penn State, Notre Dame, and Michigan, but they then ripped off seven in a row before a loss to Minnesota in the regular season finale cost them another trip to Indy.

Against Purdue the result was very familiar. The Boilers led 13-10 after a George Karlaftis fumble return for a touchdown, but did not score again. It was still 13-13 deep into the third quarter, but their usual punishing ground game beat the defense into submission. Graham Mertz completed just 5 of 8 passes for 52 yards, but the Badgers gained 290 yards on the ground. Chez Mellusi had 149 yards and Braelon Allen had 140, half of which came on one run. Their defense was also incredible, holding Purdue to 206 yards total and -13 on the ground. Aidan O’Connell threw three picks.

At least this time it wasn’t Jonathan Taylor (or Montee Ball, or Ron Dayne, or Melvin Gordon, or James White...).

Wisconsin Offense

It’s Wisconsin. It’s the same every year. They have a gigantic offensive line and a few good men that are very good at hitting holes that the large men in front of them open up. Braelon Allen is expected to be that next great back and he already has a 100-yard game to his credit against Purdue. He was a preseason First Team all-Big Ten selection after he ran for 1,268 yards and 12 scores last year. He’s another big back at 6’2”, 240 and a load to bring down. He gets to run behind Joe Tippman and Jack Nelson as the top two offensive linemen. Chez Mellusi is also back after rushing for 815 yards and five scores.

If Wisconsin can get any balance in the passing game they are going to be very good yet again. Graham Mertz was underwhelming with 1,958 yards and a completion percentage under 60%. He also had 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. Aside from one year of Russell Wilson you could convince me Wisconsin has had the same quarterback for 20 years. They are that interchangeable. Most of the time all they have to do is either hand off or make a playaction throw. It is a testament to Wisconsin’s system that you know exactly what they are going to do, but they can still do it. If you told me Jim Sorgi was still back there I would believe you.

Many of the receivers are relatively new. Chimere Dike is the top returning receiver with 19 receptions for 272 yards and a score. Skyler Bell is a guy to watch as a deep threat when they do throw. The Wisconsin line is more than good enough to give Mertz plenty of time to throw, but when they won by 17 points on the road last year while throwing eight times who needs to throw. Purdue has had nearly 20 years to figure out how to stop the Wisconsin running game under five different head coaches (Gerad Parker coached the 2016 game) and multiple defensive coordinators. It has failed every time.

Wisconsin Defense

This was the best defense Purdue faced all of last season. After a second quarter TD drive they sat on Purdue’s head all afternoon, forced three picks, and never let our own offense really get going. They even held David Bell to 33 yards on six catches. There was absolutely no running game from Purdue because I rushed for more yards than the Boilers did as a team. The defense was 4th nationally in scoring at 16.15 points per game and the best in the country by giving up 239.1 yards per game. The run defense was the best in America at 64.8 yards per game given up, greatly helped by holding Purdue to -13 yards.

There is a lot to replace, but Keeanu Benton and Isaiah Mullens are great plyers to build around int heir 3-4 scheme. That scheme relies on the linebackers to do a lot, and Nick Herbig is back as the team’s leading sack-master. He had 61 tackles and nine sacks a year ago, but at least Leo Chenal is gone. He was a nightmare for Purdue’s offensive line with 9 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He is now George Karlaftis’ teammate in Kansas City. Herbig is a preseason First Team all-Big Ten selection.

Where Purdue can maybe gain some yards is against an inexperienced secondary. John Torchio is the lone member of the secondary back, but they have a large number of transfers coming in that will battle for playing time. Jay Shaw had three interceptions last season playing for UCLA and has six in his career. He is a grad transfer that should take one of the cornerback spots.

Wisconsin Special Teams

The loss of kicker Connor Larsh is a big one, especially from a team that grinds its way into field goal range. Andy Vujnovich gives them a great punter though. He averaged over 46 yards per kick, which is huge when you have a lights out defense.

Stephan bracey is a dangerous kickoff returner who took one the distance last year. He averaged more than 32 yards per return. Dean Engram was pretty average on punt returns with a five yard average.

Game Outlook

Nothing has given me a reason to think we’re going to beat Wisconsin any time soon. Like the men’s basketball team once it reaches the Sweet 16, there is a mental block that prevents Purdue from getting over the hump. We’re currently completely incapable of making a Final Four and we have long been incapable of beating Wisconsin. I won’t believe either can happen until they actually happen.

Purdue should be pretty good this year. This is the most hype we have since probably 2005. We might even be top 25 good. There is a very good chance we could enter this game at 5-2 or even better, meaning the West would be on the line.

This is still Wisconsin.

That means it is the same old, same old every year. We know what is coming. Can we finally stop it? Their defense should take a step back last year, helping our own potent passing game, but can we not get ground into fine powder by their running game for once?

Way-Too-Early Prediction

Until proven otherwise I am picking Wisconsin. This program has been the bane of our existence for two decades. Wisconsin 30, Purdue 17