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Know Your Enemy - Wisconsin Badgers

Let’s get to know the Badgers.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We know the history of these two teams. There’s nothing that can be said that’s new or interesting about the fact that Purdue hasn’t beaten Wisconsin since 2003. Instead, let’s get to know Wisconsin by talking with our SB Nation partners over at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter.

For Purdue fans, seeing Wisconsin on the schedule is basically a living nightmare. Having not beat you all since 2003 the vast majority of current Purdue students weren’t alive for Purdue’s last victory. All that is to say, when you see Purdue on the schedule what do you think of?

I think this could be a more challenging game than anticipated, but the main thought that comes to my head is the similarity. Both teams are undergoing a change of regime with a transfer quarterback, although the rebuild may take a little longer for Purdue than Wisconsin. Still, with a quarterback that has one of the stronger arms in the conference, I don’t think this game is as much of a blowout as people may believe, and the odds reiterate that with the Badgers being just six-point favorites.

How is the new coaching staff settling in?

It’s a work in progress, which may not be what Badgers fans anticipated, given the hype around the program. The offense has struggled to start fast, and the Badgers are still trying to find a balance between the run and the pass, specifically in their usage of Braelon Allen. Defensively, it doesn’t seem like the scheme is the best fit for the current set of players, leading to some growing pains, but one major positive for the defense is the resiliency they’ve instilled in their players, leading Wisconsin to be a second-half team thus far this year. Recruiting-wise, it’s been a strong start though for Luke Fickell and Co.

Wisconsin is 2-1 on the season but isn’t inspiring quite as much fear as in year’s past (except in Purdue fans who are always scared of Wisconsin), what do you think is the team’s biggest issue right now?

I think it’s the defense more so than the offense, but a common theme is the “settling in” period, which I don’t think has passed yet. Defensively, it’s not as talented of a group compared to years past, while the scheme, as I alluded above, isn’t the best fit for the players, with the Badgers not having as many dominant down linemen, as well as taller, lengthier game-ready corners for the 3-3-5. That should start to increase as head coach Luke Fickell’s reign continues, but I attribute the supposed “lesser fear” compared to previous seasons to the growing pains that come with as much turnover as the Badgers have seen this offseason.

You might have seen Purdue’s last game against Syracuse where the QB ran for over 200 yards against our defense. I know that running isn’t the MO of the Wisconsin QB (assuming that’s Tanner), but how many designed runs do you think he will get given the Purdue weakness?

Great question. I actually had this specific question for both head coach Luke Fickell and Tanner Mordecai himself this week, and they’re aware of the way Syracuse used Garrett Schrader on the ground last week, although that offense is different than Wisconsin’s. I don’t think there’ll be that many designed runs, although the Badgers are beginning to tap into that field more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mordecai decides to take off a number of times after seeing the defensive look.

Wisconsin is known for rushing yards and big offensive linemen. Does that hold true this year for those who haven’t been able to watch?

I honestly think the M.O. offensively doesn’t change much with the new staff, but rather becomes more balanced with the passing attack and the run game. In fact, it might highlight the rushing yards and big offensive linemen even more, as the spread offense allows for lighter boxes and easier blocking responsibilities for the front five, getting the running backs in space. There certainly has been a decrease in usage for Braelon Allen, who battled some early injuries last week, as the Badgers shift to a more even split between him and Chez Mellusi, but the running game is arguably still the X-Factor for igniting the Badgers offense.

In the passing game, who stands out?

Receivers-wise, the No. 1 threat is slot receiver Will Pauling, who has developed a strong rapport with Tanner Mordecai early, both in the shorter and intermediate ranges of the field. But, the Badgers have spread the ball out a lot to their top weapons, with Bryson Green serving as the top deep-threat ability, and Chimere Dike being the do-it-all wideout on the outside for Wisconsin. The deep game hasn’t evolved fully yet, as the Badgers are still working on adding that element, but the glimpses of a successful downfield passing attack are there, and Wisconsin now has the wide receivers to be capable in that capacity.

Finally, pretend you wake up Saturday after being unable to watch the game and find out Purdue won. What happened?

The Badgers started flat-footed once again. That has been Wisconsin’s Achilles heal in each of the first three weeks, and I’m not sure how sustainable that will be in Big Ten play, where physicality is significant and low-scoring games come out. But, the other reason would be the downfield ability of Purdue quarterback Hudson Card, as the Badgers’ defense has been prone to give up some big plays thus far, which could be a deterrent in Week 4.