Welcome to this week's "All-Out Blitz," where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers head out on the road to West Lafayette, Ind., this week to take on the Purdue Boilermakers, in a game that could decide which team represents the Leaders division in the Big Ten title game. The stakes are high, so read up on the Boilermakers before the game kicks off at 11 a.m. CST Saturday.
All Out Blitz: Purdue
What you need to know about Purdue
Head coach: Danny Hope (4th season @ Purdue), 19-23 (10-15 Big Ten) Purdue All-Time Record: 586-508-48 (.534) 2012 Record: 3-2 (0-1 Big Ten) Ranking: NR (AP), NR (Coaches Poll) All-Time record against Wisconsin: 42-29-8
It was an up and down season for the Boilermakers, to say the least. They returned 14 starters from an injury-riddled 2010 campaign, but it got off to a rough start with a close win over Middle Tennessee and a two-point loss to Rice on the road. They finished their non-conference season 2-2 after Notre Dame thrashed them 38-10 in their annual rivalry game. In Big Ten play, the Boilermakers found a bit of a comfort zone at home in Ross-Aide Stadium.
Purdue went 3-1 at home in Big Ten play with wins over Minnesota and No. 23 Illinois, and pulled off a shocking upset over Ohio State in overtime after the Boilermakers blocked a game-winning extra point. The road was less kind, however. Purdue lost three over their four road games, including a 62-17 loss to Wisconsin, but they got a key win at Indiana to take back the Old Oaken Bucket and secure six wins and a bowl game. The Boilermakers finished on a high note with a win over Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but they certainly made a winning season closer than it needed to be.
The Boilermakers are looking for their first Big Ten title since 2000, and they might not get another shot like this for a while. Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason this season, Illinois has been terrible, and Indiana is still Indiana. Wisconsin is Purdue's only real competition for a spot in the Big Ten title game, and they get the Badgers at home, where they've been known to cause some havoc. Combine that with 15 returning starters and one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten in Kawann Short, and the Boilermakers definitely looked like the dark horse a lot of people thought they were. The stars are aligned for Purdue this season, but they still need to prove they can take advantage of their good fortune.
Up to last week, it looked like things were going as expected for Purdue. They blew out Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan, and hung tough with then-No. 22 Notre Dame on the road. A 51-41 win over Marshall wasn't as close as the final score, and the Boilermakers entered Big Ten play with a 3-1 record.
But the wheels came off a bit against Michigan last week. The Boilermakers lost 44-14 at home, and were outgained 409-213 by the Wolverines. Quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve each had an interception as part of a four-turnover game, blurring the line even further between the two signal callers. The Boilermakers had a big opportunity to make a statement in the Big Ten, and it backfired on them big time.
They'll look to recover this week behind TerBush, who will start the game for the Boilermakers even though Marve has probably outperformed him this season. TerBush is completing 63.8 percent of his passes this season, which is about where he finished in 2011, but he has five interceptions to eight touchdowns. By contrast, Marve has completed over 71 percent of his passes, and has four touchdowns to just two interceptions. It seems like the Boilermakers will use both signal callers against the Badgers, but fans and the media have been wondering if the right plan is in place.
Purdue's running game hasn't made much of an impact so far this season. The Boilermakers averaged just about 2.5 yards per carry against Notre Dame and Michigan, and they'll have to go up against a Wisconsin defense that's been very stingy against the run this season. It sounds like they'll get Ralph Bolden back this week, but he hasn't played all season and there are questions about if he's really 100 percent healthy. If Bolden is healthy he could make an impact, but without him the Boilermakers will probably stick with their passing attack.
So far this season, O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison have been the top two targets for Purdue's quarterbacks. Ross is leading the way with 35 catches for 282, but Edison has probably had the biggest impact. The 5-foot-11 wide receiver has 28 catches this year, but he leads the team with 313 receiving yards and five touchdowns, barely edging out fellow wide receiver Gary Bush, who has four scores this season. Especially if Bolden is not playing or ineffective, look for Purdue to challenge the Badger secondary early and often.
On defense, the big impact players to watch for are up front. Everybody knows about defensive tackle Kawann Short, and if they didn't before the season they should know now. Short has four sacks already this season, and was getting one per game before the Wolverines didn't let him at Denard Robinson. He's an imposing force in the middle, and frees up fellow linemen like Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell. Gaston has four tackles for loss this season, and Wisconsin's offensive line will need to be careful they don't forget about him, either. The Boilermakers return both of last year's starting cornerbacks, but replaced both of their starting safeties from last season.
But even with their experience on defense, it's hard to say they haven't disappointed so far. After last week's blowout loss, the Boilermakers allow over 25 points per game, and it looks like they still have problems stopping the run. They're better, allowing 3.98 yards per carry this year as opposed to 4.29, but that number will have to come down if they want to compete for a Big Ten championship.
Matchup to watch: Purdue defensive line vs. Wisconsin offensive line
It's no secret that Wisconsin's offensive line hasn't been up to par for most of this season. They played like their old selves in the fourth quarter against Illinois, but the Boilermakers will give them one of their biggest tests of the season- Purdue is tied for fifth in the Big Ten in sacks this season, and the Badgers have given up the third-most.
Protecting Joel Stave will be of the utmost importance for the line, and how the Badgers fare in the trenches will probably determine if they can pull off their first road win of the season. The Badgers will also need to get a good push off the line of scrimmage if they want to take advantage of Purdue's relatively porous rush defense.
The pick:Purdue 28 Wisconsin 24
This is a hard pick for me, since I was not on Purdue's bandwagon to start the season and I'm still very wary of how good they are after their loss to Michigan last week. To put it simply, it wasn't good. And don't get me wrong, the Badgers have definitely made strides since their disastrous loss to Oregon State. The problem is it seems like there's always something up with this team: if the defense is playing well, the offense struggles and vice versa. If the offense has a good first half, the defense gives up their lead after halftime.
The Boilermakers are favored by just one point at home, and I thought I was going to pick the Badgers for most of the week. But I haven't seen them play at a high level on all phases for a full game yet, and their various road issues might be too big to overcome a Purdue team that can't help but be desperate after their loss to Michigan. There are definitely ways for the Badgers to pull off the win, as I mentioned above, but I'm not sure they're at the point where I can call a difficult road win just yet.
The point after:
The Badgers have dominated their series with Purdue recently. Their last loss to the Boilermakers came in 2003, and they haven't lost in West Lafayette since 1997.