Preview: Wisconsin vs Purdue
The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (3-4, 1-3) vs the Purdue Boilermakers (5-2, 3-1)
The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
The TV coverage: ESPN with Bob Wischusen and Dan Orlovsky on the call and Kris Budden on the sideline.
The last time: Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen combined for 289 yards on the ground and the Badgers defense forced five turnovers on their way to a 30-13 win over Purdue last October.
The series: Wisconsin leads 51-29-8
The line: Wisconsin -2.5
THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH
1) What now?
In the first game of the Jim Leonhard era, Wisconsin put together its best performance of the season in a 42-7 win over Northwestern. A week later, the same mistake-prone Badgers that got Paul Chryst fired showed up in East Lansing in a double overtime loss to Michigan State. It is anyone’s guess what version of Wisconsin will show up against the Boilermakers on Saturday, especially with the goal of winning the Big Ten West essentially out of reach. It will say a lot about Leonhard as a head coach and his ability to lead a program if he can motivate this group to play well against a Purdue squad battling for a division title.
2) Got to play clean
Based on penalties, this is the most undisciplined Wisconsin team since at least 1996. The Badgers are averaging a staggering 7.0 penalties a game, which ranks 92nd in the country. For perspective, they have not averaged more than 6.0 penalties in any season in the last 26 years. Unsurprisingly, it is even worse in losses where they are averaging 8.5, including two double-digit games. Wisconsin has shown signs it can play good football but it must get out of its own way to do so.
3) Slowing AOC and Charlie Jones
The last time Wisconsin faced a prolific passing attack things did not go well. That was at Ohio State earlier this season when CJ Stroud threw six touchdowns in a blowout win. No one is saying Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell is on Stroud’s level or the Boilermakers weapons, including wide receiver Charlie Jones, are comparable to the Buckeyes, but they present a stiff challenge for a Wisconsin secondary still licking its wounds after a late collapse at Michigan State.
O’Connell is coming off a four-touchdown effort last week against Nebraska and he has 14 touchdowns to just five interceptions on the season. He has targeted Jones a ton this year and it has the senior sitting second in the country with 62 catches and nine touchdowns, while also being seventh in the nation with 735 yards. Jones, who is dealing with a lower body injury but expected to play, will likely get his yards, but the Badgers have to eliminate the big plays he has been able to create.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on tight end Payne Durham. He had 112 yards and a touchdown against the Badgers last year.
4) Maybe this week?
The talk going into the Michigan State game was about a porous Spartans secondary that the Badgers could take advantage of. That did not happen, with quarterback Graham Mertz being limited to 131 yards passing. Though Mertz made mistakes, perhaps the biggest issue was the inability to keep Michigan State’s front seven out of the backfield.
Now comes Purdue, which is not much better than the Spartans, giving up the third-most yards through the air among Big Ten teams. With as strong as the Boilermakers are against the run (16th in the country), can the Badgers get back on track through the air? It may once again come down to keeping Mertz clean, which will be a challenge against a Purdue defense that has nine sacks in its last three games, including four against Nebraska last week.
Wisconsin is likely to get back a number of key pieces on both sides of the ball against the Boilermakers. Starting right tackle Riley Mahlman is expected to be available for the first time since injuring his knee in the opener. It would seem likely he will be limited in terms of how many snaps he can play, but his return gives offensive line coach Bob Bostad some flexibility in trying to get his best five on the field.
Fullback Jackson Acker should also be good to go after missing last week with a head injury.
On defense, linebacker Jake Chaney and cornerback Cedrick Dort are expected to return after sitting out last week with head injuries. Dort’s return gives interim coach Jim Leonhard a chance to work with a healthy cornerback room for the first time this season. It should be interesting to see how he uses a bunch of guys, but especially Alexander Smith, Jay Shaw, and Ricardo Hallman on the outside.
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
Wisconsin is under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2008. That year the Badgers recovered to win three of their final four games to qualify for a bowl game. This year’s team needs to go 3-2 over its last five games to make the postseason for a 22nd straight year. That is the third longest streak in the country.
The Purdue running game has been feast or famine this year. The Boilermakers have run for more than 200 yards twice, including last week against Nebraska. They were also held to 13 yards two weeks ago against Maryland. However, they might have found an intriguing weapon in Devin Mockobee, who has two 100-yard games in his last three contests.
Wisconsin has beaten Purdue 15 straight times, its longest current winning streak over any team. During this stretch, the Badgers have run for at least 200 yards 11 times, 300 yards five times and 400 yards twice. The last time Wisconsin lost to the Boilermakers was in 2003. The streak started a year later with one of the more memorable games in program history.
Zach Heilprin’s (4-3, 4-3 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 24, Purdue 23
Ebo’s (2-5, 2-5 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 28, Purdue 17
Nelson Raisbeck’s (3-4, 3-4 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 24
RJ Brachman’s (4-3, 1-6 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 21, Purdue 20
Ben Kenney’s (4-3, 3-4 ATS) prediction: Purdue 31, Wisconsin 20