The Purdue Boilermakers head up to Madison on Saturday to face the No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers. The Boilermakers (1-2) are looking to rebound from yet another close loss to Notre Dame. The Badgers (2-1) are trying to get over being screwed by the officials at Arizona State.
To see what happened to Wisconsin in a 32-30 loss to Arizona State, and just how badly referees can fail, go here.
Its the start of the Big Ten season for both teams. This is the second game in a tough stretch of Purdue’s schedule. The Boilermakers will play four teams that went to BCS Bowl games last season.
Purdue appeared to figure out some things on offense last week against Notre Dame, but will face a tough test at Wisconsin. The Badgers shut out their first two opponents of the season, before giving up 32 points to Arizona State last week.
Here’s what we’ll be on the lookout for:
- Stop the Run. Wisconsin has the second best run game in the country. Through three games, the Badgers already have over 1,000 yards on the ground. The attack is led by Melvin Gordon who has 477 rushing yards and, this is not a joke, is averaging 12.9 yards per carry. Give him the ball, first down. James White and Corey Clement are also capable running backs who each have well over 200 yards on the ground. Purdue did a good job defending the run against Notre Dame (until the final drive) and will need to find a way to at least slow down the Badgers ground game. That is clearly not an easy task.
- Third and Long. Getting Wisconsin into obvious passing situations will be key for the Boilermakers. Joel Stave is a solid quarterback, but does most of his work with short down and distance to go. If he has to make some longer throws, it will be an advantage to the Purdue secondary.
- Rob Henry. Henry had a breakout performance against Notre Dame last week. Prior to that game, he had looked truly awful. The question now is, does he continue to play at a high level or will he regress. The circumstances around this game say he will regress. Purdue is on the road, at a very hostile environment, in a conference game, and facing a very tough defense. It also doesn’t help that Wisconsin hasn’t lost to Purdue since 2003.
- A Running Game? Purdue has one of the worst rushing attacks in the country. Darrell Hazell is supposed to have a knack for building a run game, but Purdue has been averaging just 79 yards per game. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is holding opponents to 86 yards per game. All the running backs need to do is put Henry in manageable distance on third down to give the offense a chance. If Purdue can’t get its run game up and going, then it will put all the pressure on Henry (who hasn’t shouldered pressure very well this season).
- Wide Receiver. Through three games, Purdue still doesn’t have a primary receiver. Running back Akeem Hunt leads the team in receptions with 12 (repeat: a running back). BJ Knauf has shown flashes of being reliable and Shane Mikesky has the potential to be a deep threat. But the team doesn’t have a true, go-to wideout who can get open consistently and get a first down when they have to have it. We knew this would be an issue heading into the season, but throwing to the starting running back over and over isn’t going to cut it. Someone has to stand out this week and help Henry build his confidence.
This game is looking more and more lopsided every day. Wisconsin can play ball control and has the playmakers on defense to force multiple three-and-outs. I think that Wisconsin will build an early lead, Henry will try (and fail) to catch up, and the Badgers will cruise to an easy win.
The good news is that Bret “Run the Score Up” Bielema isn’t the head coach for Wisconsin anymore and current coach Gary Andersen is much more forgiving. Meaning Andersen won’t push his team to score over 50 points.
Purdue falls to Wisconsin, 45-17.
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