Wisconsin’s last home game of the season vs Purdue is a must-win game for the Badgers, as is every game for the rest of the season if they want a chance to beat out Minnesota for the Big Ten West. Purdue is struggling with a record of 4-6, but are coming off of back-to-back wins.
Get After the Quarterback:
The Badgers started off the year with a historically great defense, but haven’t been able to maintain it throughout the season. However, the pass-rush has not been at fault. Wisconsin has two pass-rushers that have nearly 20 combined sacks, with Chris Orr at 10 and Zach Baun at nine and a half. Wisconsin is also second in the Big Ten in total sacks with 37, and that number should go up against Purdue, as they’ve given up at least two sacks in each of their last three games. Purdue is a pass-heavy team, so getting heavy pressure on third-string quarterback Aidan O’Connell could completely derail the Boilermakers' offense. The Badgers could take advantage of O’Connell’s inexperience by forcing him into bad decisions, the new starter threw two picks last week against a far inferior Northwestern defense. The Boilermakers have by far the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten, with over 400 less rushing yards than any other team, so it is unlikely they will have a running game to rely on if the Badgers’ pass rush disrupts their passing attack.
Wisconsin has not been a particularly turnover prone team this season, but turning the ball over can be a crucial factor when underdogs upset top teams. When Wisconsin has lost, they’ve turned the ball over two and three times respectively. Jack Coan has only thrown three interceptions all year, one of them coming against Ohio State in a loss. Jonathan Taylor has cut down on his fumbles every year he’s been at Wisconsin, but the team has fumbled 10 times this year, and three of them came against Illinois in the huge upset loss. Taylor himself coughed the ball up at the end of the game to put the final dagger in the Badgers. If the Badgers want to maintain a steady lead throughout the game, they can’t afford to turn the ball over and let Purdue back in it. Their three turnovers cost them the game at Illinois, so there should be extra focus on ball security against Purdue.
Control the Clock:
Wisconsin’s identity has always been to run the ball and control the clock. Wisconsin is leading the Big Ten in time of possession, averaging over 36 minutes a game. By leaning on its workhorse Jonathan Taylor, who is second in the nation in rushing yards, the Badgers allow their defense to be fresh when they step out on the field, and wear out the other team’s defense. If Wisconsin can run the ball effectively, and maintain long drives, it’ll force Purdue to be even more one-dimensional than they typically are. Purdue will have to put up points in a hurry, and if they can’t, the game could get out of hand. When you’re dominating the time of possession, it typically means that you have the lead at the point in the game. Since it’s the last home game for the Badgers, if they’re able to maintain a lead, they can feed off the energy of the crowd at Camp Randall and ride to a win.
Help their quarterback:
Aidan O’Connell will make only his second career start, after first-string quarterback Jake Plummer broke his right ankle and second-string quarterback Elijah Sindelar broke his left collarbone. While O’Connell won his first start, he only averaged a measly 5.7 yards-per-attempt, which is significantly lower than either Plummer or Sindelar were averaging. O’Connell also threw two interceptions against Northwestern, who only have five total interceptions on the year. Purdue relies heavily on their passing game, attempting the most passes in the Big Ten, so in order for O’Connell to have a good game, they must make avoid third-and-long plays and give him a clean pocket. If they do that, it can allow O’Connell to feed the ball to David Bell, who is leading the Big Ten in receptions with 65.
Stop the Run:
As we all know, the blueprint for beating the Badgers is to limit their running game, particularly Jonathan Taylor. If you can stop Jonathan Taylor, you can force Jack Coan to beat you through the air, which he hasn’t shown he can do consistently. In Wisconsin’s loss to Ohio State, the team ran for under 100 yards, and Taylor averaged under three yards-per-carry. In Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois, Taylor averaged under five yards-per-carry, which is better, but still significantly less than his season average. Purdue has one of the worst rush defenses in the Big Ten, but George Karlaftis is tied for most tackles for loss in the Big Ten with 13. If he can consistently get into the Badger backfield, the Boilermakers might be able to considerably slow down Jonathan Taylor and Badgers run game.
The Boilermakers are heavy underdogs in this game, but striking early gives them their best chance to win. If they can put the Badgers in a hole early, it might force Jack Coan to beat them through the air even if the Boilermakers can’t entirely stop Jonathan Taylor and the run. The Badgers are a much worse team when they’re playing from behind, and it could force them into mistakes. If Purdue jumps out to an early lead, it might quiet down the crowd at Camp Randall as well, which is a huge home-field advantage for Wisconsin. If the Boilermakers allow themselves to go down big early, the game will be over quickly. However, scoring early will allow them to build momentum, and stay within striking distance to capitalize on a mistake from the Badgers. Purdue ultimately should look to set the tone in the first quarter, or else the game might get ugly.
The Badgers are heavily favored in their last home game of the season, and need to take advantage of Purdue’s third string quarterback. If the Badgers win, they keep their chances alive of playing in the Big Ten championship game, and if not then the Minnesota Axe game will get a whole lot more lame.