For the second straight week, the No. 19 Badgers (2-2 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) will look to rebound from a tough road loss. For the second straight week, UW’s Big Ten title chances will stay alive with a win.
Saturday’s contest with Purdue (2-2, 4-4) poses two significant differences, though. First, Wisconsin will be back in the familiar confines of Camp Randall Stadium. Second, those title chances will not survive another loss.
“Obviously, we wanted those two wins, but we have to let them go and just win out,” junior tailback Montee Ball said.
Ball leads the nation with 21 total touchdowns this season and sits fourth in the Big Ten in rushing at 859 yards. As a team, the Badgers are averaging 231.8 rushing yards per game (third in the Big Ten behind Nebraska and Michigan) despite being held to just 89 yards rushing a week ago against Ohio State.
Purdue ranks in the lower half or third of the conference in most major team categories, but has played nearly every conference opponent tough so far this season, with the exception of a 36-14 loss against Michigan.
“They’ve been on top of a couple teams early and we have to make sure we start fast,” Ball said.
A key to early success for the Badgers is to continue their dominance in the red zone. Despite the struggles in other areas the last two weeks, UW continues to be nearly automatic once the offense is inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
This season, Wisconsin has scored on 38 out of 40 red zone opportunities (95 percent).
“We say that’s where we make our money,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Travis Frederick said. “If you don’t take advantage of a red zone opportunity, then you’re just wasting opportunities.”
Even more impressive, UW has turned 85 percent of those opportunities (34-40) into touchdowns, the best mark in the country.
“When you’re that close to the end zone, you have to put it in, and field goals aren’t acceptable,” Frederick said. “That’s how we’re coached.”
The Boilermakers feature the Big Ten’s sixth-best scoring offense, averaging 27.0 points per game so far in 2011. They have deployed two quarterbacks, junior Caleb TerBush and senior Robert Marve, though TerBush has seen the majority of the action recently. Still, Boilermakers’ head coach Danny Hope will likely use Marve occasionally against the Badgers.
Purdue does not do anything particularly well or particularly poorly, but, considering the two teams have equal Big Ten records and share space in the Leaders Division, there is no reason to remind either team what is on the line. Still, UW sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis said he did not think the Badgers would struggle to rebound from the last two weeks.
“We just do the same thing every week,” said Abbrederis, who racked up 12 catches for 204 yards and two scores against Michigan State and Ohio State. “We have something that works. We just have to come up with it and finish games.”
In order to finish games the way they would like, the Badgers cannot afford to fall behind by double digits. The remedy for that, in addition to just being back in Madison, is simple, according to Ball.
“Start fast,” he said. “Start extremely fast.”