Purdue is facing an uphill battle against the Badgers this Saturday, but if it can get huge games out of its key edge rushers, Wisconsin may be given a run for its money.
Junior Derrick Barnes and freshman George Karlaftis are Purdue’s starting defensive ends, and also the Boilermakers leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. Barnes has six tackles for a loss along with four sacks, while Karlaftis has shocked just about everyone in the Big Ten with 14.5 (!) tackles for a loss and 6 sacks.
The more chaos Purdue’s ends can create, the better the game will go for the Boilermakers.
`The combo have nearly half of Purdue’s total TFL’s and more than half of the teams sacks. With that much pressure coming from the edges, Wisconsin’s offensive tackles junior Cole Van Lannen and sophomore Logan Bruss will have their hands full all afternoon long.
Purdue’s combo of edge rushers will be focused first on stopping Badger running back Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin has struggled in games where the offensive line hasn't been able to generate holes for Taylor — in games where Taylor has fewer than 100 yards the Badgers are just 4-4 since his debut in 2017. Additionally, quarterback Jack Coan has yet to prove that he can put the team on his back when Taylor can’t get going as evidenced in the Illinois and Ohio State game this year.
If Barnes and Karlaftis can stymie Taylor, Purdue’s chances of winning will shoot up.
The duo’s second goal will be to actually get to Coan, instead of just trying to contain him. Coan has only been sacked 17 times through the first 10 games for Wisconsin, but five of those sacks came in a loss against Ohio State. Van Lannen had a particularly tough time against the Buckeyes, giving up five sacks to Chase Young (though he may not be a fair comparison to Karlaftis or Barnes).
However, Karlaftis had his best game of the year at No. 12 Penn State, the best competition Purdue has faced all season. If competition drives him, this game against the Badgers will bring out the best in his play as Wisconsin still boasts the top defense in the Big Ten.
Similarly, Barnes’ best game came against the Iowa Hawkeyes, not exactly a weak team.
But, the Badgers haven’t given up much to edge rushers not named Chase Young this season, and there’s no reason to believe the tackles won’t be up to the challenge.
Purdue should be a cake-walk for Wisconsin, the Boilermakers offensive and defensive talent just doesn’t match up to the Badger. However, if the running game can’t get going and Coan is under pressure all afternoon, it could get ugly for Wisconsin.