Preview: Wisconsin at Purdue

THE BASICS

The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (2-1, 0-0) at the Purdue Boilermakers (1-2, 0-0)

The time: 6 p.m. CDT, Friday

The place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

The TV coverage: FS1 with Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman on the call

The last time: Wisconsin picked off Aidan O’Connell three times, while Braelon Allen ran for 117 yards and a score in a 35-24 win last season in Madison.

The series: 52-29-8

The line: Wisconsin -6

THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH

1) Getting started on the right track

Wisconsin was the favorite to win the Big Ten West in each of the last two years only to start 0-2 in conference play, including back-to-back blowouts last season against Ohio State and Illinois that led to coach Paul Chryst’s dismissal. The Badgers were able to flip the switch in 2021, running off seven straight wins (six straight Big Ten wins) before running out of gas and losing to Minnesota on the final day of the regular season. In 2022, there was no recovering from the early hole as Wisconsin finished below .500 in the conference for the first time since 2008. If the Badgers are going to show they have what it takes to grab the last Big Ten West title before the conference goes away from divisions, it must start in West Lafayette.

2) Get it going early

It wouldn’t be accurate to say Wisconsin has been abysmal in the first half of its three games, but the actual description isn’t much better. The Badgers have come out sleep walking and have been outscored 40-31 in the first 30 minutes. It didn’t cost them against Buffalo or Georgia Southern, but even a great third quarter couldn’t overcome falling down 24-6 at Washington State two weeks ago. Coach Luke Fickell’s team likely can’t afford slow starts in conference play if its goal of playing for championships is to come to fruition. The group needs to take the energy, focus and success its shown in the third quarter of games (outscoring teams 48-7) and get after it from the jump.

3) Tanner Mordecai getting loose

Wisconsin’s quarterback has been solid throwing the ball the last two weeks, completing 62.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. But the senior has also shown off his mobility, running for 83 yards (after taking out sacks) and two scores, while also making his best throw of the season — a touchdown to Skyler Bell at Washington State — after being flushed to his left.

His legs could play a major part on Friday after Purdue allowed Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader to run for 195 yards and four touchdowns last week. Some of that came on scrambles, but Shrader also took advantage of a defense that sold out on some inside runs and allowed him to get on the edges. Wisconsin has not called a lot of designed runs for Mordecai but that could change on Friday.

4) Slowing Purdue

It’s been a mixed bag for Wisconsin’s defense so far this season. Like the rest of the team, there have been moments of greatness but also way too many moments of substandard play. That’s especially the case against the pass, where the Badgers rank 114th in the country (276 ypg) and have given up nine plays of 20 or more yards.

Insert Purdue quarterback Hudson Card, the Texas transfer who has the second-most yards in the Big Ten and has thrown the ball more than anyone. As usual, the Boilermakers also have a couple talented receivers in Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen (18 catches, 218 yards) and Deion Burks (nine catches, 221 yards, three TDs). Card has also gotten the tight ends involved with freshman Max Klare averaging five catches per game.

All of that is to say that the Wisconsin secondary, which has played a ton of man-to-man through the first three games, will be challenged quite a bit. Their performance will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

5) Friday Night Lights

The Badgers are no strangers to playing on Friday nights. They did it to open the 2017 and 2018 seasons at home, while also going to South Florida to open things in 2019. But this will be the first time doing it within a season, meaning just five days of preparation rather than the normal six days between games. Purdue is dealing with the same, but getting to do it at home is an advantage. The biggest question for Wisconsin is how healthy they will be, namely at running back with Braelon Allen. He nearly didn’t play last week due to getting “dinged up” at practice. Now, with even less time to recover, what will one of the Badgers top weapons look like?

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Purdue’s running game hasn’t been productive this year, ranking 102nd in the country (122.8 ypg). But sophomore running back Devin Mockobee isn’t to be overlooked and Wisconsin knows. He ran for 108 yards a touchdown last year against the Badgers.

Wisconsin has beaten Purdue 16 straight times, the longest winning streak by either team in the series. The last time the Badgers lost to the Boilermakers was 2003.

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin (2-1, 0-3 ATS) ’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Purdue 27
Ebo (2-1, 1-2 ATS) ’s prediction: Wisconsin 28, Purdue 20
RJ Brachman’s (2-1, 1-2 ATS) prediction: Wisconsin 35, Purdue 24