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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024

Gameday: A sight for sore eyes

 

When the Wisconsin Badgers take the field at Camp Randall this Saturday to face Purdue, they will have more two more losses on their record than the last time they played in front of their home fans. Such is life in the Big Ten, where difficult road games can quickly turn a team's promising season into something gone terribly wrong.

Since Bret Bielema became the head coach at Wisconsin, there has never been a season where the Badgers didn't lose at least one Big Ten road game. As it turns out, even the addition of talented quarterback Russell Wilson could not end that trend.

Badger fans can take some solace in the fact that Wisconsin never gave up in either loss, as Wilson orchestrated two furious fourth-quarter comebacks to give the Badgers a chance to win both games. But two unbelievable deep passes by the opponents left Wisconsin with two losses and a whole lot of head scratching.

If the Badgers can play the rest of the season with the "never give up" mentality they showed in the fourth quarter of those road games, they will still have a chance to have a special season. Though they do not control their destiny, the Badgers could still find themselves playing in the Big Ten Championship if they win all four of their remaining games.

"In the world of college football, anything can happen," sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "We need a little help, but we just need to take it one game at a time."

Before the Badgers can even begin to think about heading to Indianapolis to represent the Leaders Division, they must fix the problems that plagued them in the two losses. In all three facets of football, there were glaring issues that the Badgers are likely addressing in practice this week.

Though the special teams units rarely receive credit for doing their job well, it's clear they need to perform better for the Badgers to finish the season strong. Michigan State blocked a field goal and Ohio State had a huge kickoff return to midfield that set up their game-winning touchdown. And perhaps most egregiously, the Badgers had a punt blocked that directly led to seven points for the opponent in both games.

Wisconsin's offense has shown flashes of brilliance in these past two games-especially in the fourth quarter-but there have also been times when it seemed stuck in reverse. Against Ohio State, four of the Badgers' first five offensive possessions ended with a punt. At times, the Badgers' running game struggled, especially with runs to the outside. Wisconsin went into halftime with only a 7-3 lead, effectively wasting an opportunity to put away the Buckeyes early.

Finally, the Wisconsin defense cannot be too proud of their performance over the last two weeks. Pass defense in late-game situations has obviously been a weakness, but there have been other problems. It has struggled getting off the field in third downs, as the Buckeyes and Spartans combined for a 53 percent success rate on third down conversions. Additionally, the Badgers' tackling fundamentals have left much to be desired at times, whether it be taking poor angles to the ball carrier or not finishing tackles well.

Playing the Boilermakers at Camp Randall should be just what the Badgers need to get back to their winning ways. Purdue heads into this weekend's game with a 4-4 record and has not won away from home this season. The Boilermakers did shock No. 23 Illinois two weeks ago with a 21-14 home victory, but that was their only big win in an otherwise uninspiring season.

Wisconsin played Purdue in West Lafayette last season, and the Boilermakers held a 10-6 halftime lead in the game. Wisconsin pulled away in the second half thanks to two touchdown runs by tailback Montee Ball, winning 34-13. At this point, the Badgers are pretty familiar with Purdue, and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst doesn't expect anything out of the ordinary from the Boilermaker defense in Saturday's game.

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"Everyone has an identity at this point of the year," Chryst said. "They'll continue to be consistent with who they are."

The Boilermaker defense is led by shutdown cornerback Ricardo Allen. The sophomore boasts three pick-sixes and a total of six interceptions in his short but successful collegiate career. Wisconsin senior wide receiver Nick Toon will likely have his hands full lining up across from the young talent this weekend.

Purdue's offense is led by a duo of juniors-quarterback Caleb TerBush and tailback Ralph Bolden. The Boilermaker offense is averaging 27 points per game this season, good for 67th in the country.

Bielema has always said that there is much that his teams can learn from losses, no matter how inexplicable they may be. The lesson senior offensive guard Kevin Zeitler took from this tough stretch was one expressed in the context of a single game, but may also be relevant to the remainder of the Badgers' season.

"It's not over until it's over, that's for sure," Zeitler said.

 

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