Nov. 23, 2016
Coming off a convincing 48-3 victory over Illinois, the Badgers will play their last road game of the season at Purdue. Wisconsin is 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Big Ten play and Wisconsin is in control of its own destiny in not only getting to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, but the College Football Playoff as well. Purdue is coming in last in the Big Ten West at 3-7 overall and just 1-6 in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers had an early 10-0 lead this past Saturday against Northwestern, but ended up losing 45-17. In the last four games, Purdue has been either leading or tied at the half three times and were only trailing 14-10 in the other game. However, in the second half, the Boilermakers have been outscored a whopping 114-17 in the second half in those games. Wisconsin’s 48 points were the second most Bucky has scored this year and Purdue has given up an average of more than 37 points per game and an average of 50.3 points per game in the last three. The Boilermakers are last in the Big Ten in a number of categories, including scoring defense, total defense and rushing offense. Wisconsin’s offense is getting better and will likely make it four consecutive games of 40+ points against Purdue’s defense.
When Wisconsin runs the ball...
The Badgers are coming off a game against Illinois in which Wisconsin rushed for a season-high 363 yards en route to an easy win. The Cardinal and White have rushed for more than 200 yards in three of the last five games and should be four of the last five if not for Bart Houston losing nearly 40 yards when trying to run out the clock at Northwestern. With the big rushing performance, Bucky now ranks 40th in rushing yards. An improving running game now takes on the porous Purdue run defense, ranked 121st in the country. This past Saturday, Purdue allowed Northwestern’s Justin Jackson to run for 127 yards and John Moten IV to rush for an additional 119. With the Badgers offensive line improving every week and Purdue’s defense not being able to stop anyone on the ground, I expect another big rushing day from Wisconsin, probably breaking 300 once again.
When Wisconsin passes the ball...
Wisconsin is a team that runs the ball down your throat and only passes when it wants/has to. Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston only combined to pass the ball 13 times against Illinois and will be more of the same in West Lafayette. Like most years, the Badgers are low in passing. Wisconsin is 103rd in passing yards per game, but rise up to 75th in quarterback rating. Purdue, on the other hand, struggles so mightily at stopping the run that teams don’t need to pass the ball much. The Boilermalers are 53rd in opponents passing yards, have allowed 19 touchdown passes and are 100th in opposing quarterback rating. Purdue has eight interceptions on the year and Wisconsin has thrown 10 on the season, so Wisconsin will need to avoid the big turnovers to avoid the upset. Of the eight picks on the season by the Boilermakers, only Markus Bailey has more than one. The Badgers will have a similar game plan this week as I doubt Wisconsin passes more than 15 times unless Purdue stacks the line and is able to slow down Bucky’s rushing attack. When dropping back to pass, the Wisconsin offensive line will need to be aware of where Evan Panfil, who leads the Boilermakers with five sacks, is at all times. However, Purdue is only tied for 97th with 16 sacks total. I expect a low passing total, but only because they won’t pass much.
When Purdue runs...
Wisconsin has a great defense overall and it starts with the front seven. Once again, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu will be out this week. But even without him the past four games, Wisconsin’s run defense has not skipped a beat. Illinois had a few nice runs on Saturday to help the Illini have 99 yards rushing and a 4.7-yard average, but overall, Wisconsin did a nice job stopping the run. Purdue is one of the worst teams in college football at running the ball, ranking 124th out of the 128 FBS teams with just 104.1 rush yards per game. Wisconsin’s defense is not a medicine for Purdue’s pathetic ground attack. The Badgers come into the game fifth in the country in run defense, allowing 101 rush yards per game and have just six rushing touchdowns all year. Purdue’s Markell Jones is a solid running back who averages 4.5 yards per carry. However, he has struggled in Big Ten play. In the seven conference games so far, Jones has not had more than 50 yards rushing in a game and has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Those numbers don’t equal success on the ground for Jones and the Boilermakers. Wisconsin will shut down the Purdue ground attack and make Purdue even more one-dimensional than it was already.
When Purdue passes...
For as good as Wisconsin’s front seven is, the secondary may be even better. Although Jeff George, Jr. is not the best quarterback the Badgers have played this year, the secondary did hold the Fighting Illini to just 101 passing yards and a 29 percent completion percentage. Wisconsin was able to pick off George four times in the first half. The Badgers rose to 19th in opponents passing yards following last week and now are fifth in opponents quarterback rating. The Badgers are also tied for first in the country in passing touchdowns allowed with just five and Wisconsin has also picked off 14 passes on the year. That does not bode well for Purdue quarterback David Blough, who has thrown a nation-leading 16 interceptions this season. With the lack of a running game, Blough will be in a tough position. The Wisconsin linebackers can tee off on the Purdue quarterback. However, Blough does have solid weapons at his disposal. Six receivers have at least 29 receptions, led by Deangelo Yancey. The senior has 718 yards receiving and seven touchdowns and averages 19.4 yards per catch. Wisconsin was able to hold Illinois wide receiver Malik Turner to just one catch for 12 yards. The Badgers will need to keep Yancey in check to keep Purdue from making this a game.
Neither special teams are very good, and Wisconsin may actually have the edge. Wisconsin kicker Andrew Endicott has a slight edge over Purdue’s freshman kicker J.D. Dellinger, who has hit 7-of-11 on field goals with a long of 42. Endicott has made 10 of his 15 tries so far since taking over for the injured Rafael Gaglianone. Wisconsin also has a minor edge in both kick returning and punt returning. However, I doubt Purdue will have have much of a chance to return kickoffs, as P.J. Rosowski is one of the best at kicking touchbacks. The one place where Purdue does have the edge is punter. Purdue’s Joe Schopper is 61st in the country with a 41.5-yard average, while Wisconsin’s Anthony Lotti is dead last in the country with a 36.9-yard average. Even though Purdue has the edge in punting, Wisconsin has the edge everywhere else, so I give the Badgers a slight edge in special teams.
Knowing all those stats, conventional wisdom would think the Badgers will roll over the Boilermakers. Purdue’s offense has the potential to score some points and could give Wisconsin some problems if Blough gets some time to throw. However, I think the Badgers will be able to get some pressure with T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel after shutting down Purdue’s anemic rushing attack. Wisconsin will force Blough into some turnovers and it will set up Bucky with a short field. Not only is Purdue last in rushing and turnovers, but the Boilermakers are also last in third and fourth down conversions. Unless the Boilermakers can have some sort of success rushing the ball, the Badgers will dominate. Wisconsin is tops in the country in time of possession and will keep the ball out of Blough’s hands. Clement will shred the poor Purdue run defense and Wisconsin wins handily.
Prediction: Wisconsin 41, Purdue 10