Wisconsin pass defense must step up against upset-minded Purdue

Wisconsin’s conference schedule grind continues this week as they take on the Purdue Boilermakers (1-1 Big Ten, 3-2 overall) at home. Purdue comes in having beaten Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota and dropping games to Louisville and Michigan. The rebuilding Boilermakers and new coach Jeff Brohm should be hungry for another Big Ten win and a signature victory in Madison. Here are three things each team should focus on if they want to win.

Wisconsin

1.Get ready to defend the pass

Purdue has traditionally been much more focused on the pass which is rare in the run-heavy Big Ten Conference. Their new head coach Jeff Brohm brought his air raid style from Western Kentucky, accelerating their shift to a pass-heavy attack.

Both David Blough and Elijah Sindelar have seen time as quarterback thanks to Blough’s nagging shoulder injury, and both have been dangerous for opposing secondaries. They’ve combined to throw for 995 yards and 11 touchdowns, and only Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett and Penn State QB Trace McSorley have thrown for more scores in the Big Ten.

The Boilermakers threw the ball 34 times in their win over Missouri and a whopping 57 times in their loss to Louisville. The Badger secondary should be busy, and taking away Purdue’s ability to throw is the key to stopping its offense.

2. Get Hornibrook involved

Hornibrook has proven he can be effective throwing the ball for the Badgers by leading the conference in total QBR and placing second in completion percentage, but he and the rest of the passing game have consistently taken a backseat to budding star Jonathan Taylor and the running game. The offensive imbalance was rather pronounced in last week’s win over Nebraska, as Taylor exploded for 249 yards on the ground while Hornibrook only threw 17 times.

While the Badgers are 5-0 and scoring over 40 points a game, head coach Paul Chryst should still involve Hornibrook more to show that he still has confidence in his quarterback’s ability to throw the ball. Further incorporating Hornibrook would also add balance to the Badger attack and prevent Purdue from simply loading up against the run.

3.Purdue isn’t “Purdue” anymore

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Badgers have at least an 83% chance of winning out in their next five games, and the Michigan game seems easier now after their loss against Michigan State on Saturday.

However, games aren’t played on paper. This is often a point in the season where highly-ranked teams may lose focus or overlook lowly opponents only to be surprised come gameday. No. 3 Oklahoma showed exactly what can happen last week as the Sooners were knocked off by unranked Iowa State at home.

And Purdue is not bottom-feeder Purdue anymore. Purdue is 3-2 and have looked good even in its losses. The Boilermakers lost to Louisville and Lamar Jackson by only a touchdown, crushed Ohio and Missouri and played competitively in a 28-10 loss at Michigan. They already have the same amount of conferences wins as they did last year. Purdue shouldn’t pose much of a problem for the Badgers, provided that they bring their best to the field when it counts.

Purdue

1.Get the Quarterback in rhythm

Jeff Brohm hasn’t announced who the starter will be Saturday, but whoever it is has to get in rhythm early throwing the football. Passing is their main method of moving the football, so the Boilermakers are not going to go anywhere if they can’t complete passes.

Junior David Blough has completed around 68 percent of his 90 throws, while sophomore Elijah Sindelar has completed just 55 percent of his passes, suggesting room for improvement. Brohm should ease the starter into the flow of the game with short, easy throws to build their confidence against the scary Badger defense.

Purdue should target its sure-handed receivers freshman Jackson Anthrop and senior Gregory Phillips early, and by getting the quarterback in rhythm early, the team should be much more efficient moving the ball.

2. Look for Anthrop in the red zone

Freshman receiver Jackson Anthrop has quickly emerged as one of the Boilermakers’ top playmakers this year. The West Lafayette, Ind. native leads the team in receptions and touchdowns, breaking out with a seven-catch, 82-yard performance against Louisville that also included two scores.

Anthrop has been a red zone threat; all his touchdowns have been from 25 yards or shorter and two of them have come from just five yards out. When he scores, the Boilermakes have a better chance of winning, with touchdowns in two of three wins.

Therefore, the Boilermakers should draw up more plays for the young pass-catcher inside the red zone to give Purdue a better chance of converting opportunities into touchdowns. It’s also worth noting that all of Anthrop’s touchdowns have come when Sindelar is in at quarterback, so if David Blough gets the start, Anthrop may see a decrease in red zone looks.

3. Win the turnover battle

Purdue has been inconsistent this year in terms of turnovers. The Boilermakers have had two four-turnover games against Louisville and Minnesota, but only had two total turnovers in their other three games. They’ve both won while losing the turnover battle and lost while winning the battle, so holding onto the ball more often than their opponent hasn’t always correlated to winning games.

However, having fewer turnovers than the opposing team never hurts and can go a long way toward winning the game. Despite settling down so far this year, David Blough did throw 21 interceptions last year and has shown he can be sloppy with the ball. Forcing Wisconsin to turn the ball over and holding onto it themselves could be instrumental for Purdue in achieving victory.

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