The teams: The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers Akron Zips (8-2, 5-2) vs the Purdue Boilermakers (3-7, 1-6)
The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Rose-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
The TV coverage: ABC with Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham on the call, with Dr. Jerry Punch on the sideline.
The last time: Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave threw for 322 yards, and running back Alec Ingold scored a pair of short touchdowns, as the Badgers beat Purdue 24-7 at Camp Randall Stadium last year.
The series: Wisconsin 46-29-8
The line: Wisconsin -28
The Badgers injury report:
FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)
OLB Zack Baun (leg)
OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)
NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1) Keeping your foot on the pedal
Top teams continue to lose, the latest being No. 5 Louisville Thursday night at Houston. And while that’s good for Wisconsin’s chances of making the College Football Playoff, it’s also a reminder that any team can lose on any day, and the Badgers can’t think that just by showing up on Saturday they’ll come away with a victory. It’s going to be a fight.
“It’s not one of those things where we can lay back and think things are all finished out and good to go,” wide receiver Jazz Peavy said. “We got to make sure we keep winning games and keep preparing (to win them).”
2) Running game comes alive
Through five games, the Wisconsin running game was average at best, putting up just 160 yards per game. But in the five games since, the old dominant ground attack that the Badgers have been known for has come to life.
Following a 363-yard performance against Illinois last week, Wisconsin is now up to 198 yards per game. And a lot of credit has to go to an offensive line that has found some continuity, playing the same five guys in the last three games.
“It doesn’t just happen where you can run the football,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s a group that’s working. The ability to play with the same group has been helpful. They’re doing some good stuff, but we’ve still got work to do.”
Wisconsin will have the opportunity for another big day on the ground on Saturday, as Purdue comes in ranked 122nd in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 248 yards per game.
3) Passing defense will be challenged
Purdue doesn’t do a lot of things well, but one area they have had success at times is in the passing game. The Boilermakers are averaging 309 yards per game through the air, tops in the Big Ten, and sophomore quarterback David Blough is first in passing yards, and second in the conference with 21 touchdowns.
But the Badgers pass defense has been among the better surprises this season. How the three new starters — cornerback Derrick Tindal, along with safeties Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon — would fill-in was a big question. 10 games into the season and the answer is pretty darn well. Wisconsin is allowing 191 yards through the air — ranked 19th in the country — while also making quarterbacks pay for poor throws, picking off 14 passes, the third-best mark in the Big Ten.
4) Getting healthy
Wisconsin’s starting outside linebackers — Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt — have both battled injuries this season. A cracked bone in his right foot kept Biegel out of the Michigan and Ohio State games, while Watt has played through a myriad of ailments, including a shoulder injury that left him in agonizing pain at times. But both are starting to feel like themselves again, and that could mean trouble for opposing offenses.
“We can always be the guys to make a difference or make a play,” Watt said this week. “We can impact the run or the pass so much and in so many different ways. Whether it’s rushing the passer, knocking down passes or dropping in coverage.
“I think as we continue to get healthier, more and more comfortable and gaining more and more confidence, you may see (those big plays from us).”
5) Two quarterbacks again
For a fifth straight game, it’s expected the Badgers will use both of their quarterbacks — Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. Though it can’t be called a overwhelming success, Wisconsin has won all four games where they’ve implemented the time share and Chryst intends to stick with it.
They know they don’t have to carry the whole load,” Chryst said of one of the positives of the arrangement. “They know they’re going to be contributors. I like to think it helps.”
Wisconsin is averaging 151 yards passing in this four-game stretch, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. And Chryst believes that both quarterbacks are getting used to it, and says communication has been the key.
“We’re really transparent with them as far as the plan and what’s going on so there isn’t a lot of guessing what’s going to happen,” Chryst said. “They don’t need to worry about that.”
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
Wisconsin has won the last 10 games in the series by an average of 23.2 points per game
The Badgers have given up just nine points in the first quarter of games this year, and are the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a touchdown
Led by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Badgers are allowing just 12.7 points per game, the third-best mark in the country and the fewest by a Wisconsin defense since 2006.
Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 3 (6-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 7 (7-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 13 (7-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)