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Sunday, October 01, 2023
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Fire in the boiler room: Badgers to host scalding-hot Purdue team

The Wisconsin Badgers will face off against the dynamic Purdue Boilermakers, looking to regain some momentum at home after falling to another Big Ten opponent.

The Purdue Boilermakers (5-2, 3-1) will visit Camp Randall Stadium for a matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers (3-4, 1-3) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. 

Tied atop the Big Ten West standings and riding a four-game winning streak, the Boilermakers are enjoying an outstanding 2022 season. With a strong passing attack and a proclivity for stopping the run, Purdue should be eager to take on Wisconsin. 

If the last-place Badgers are to topple Purdue, they’ll need to stabilize their inconsistent offense, provide their outside cornerbacks with constant safety help and force multiple turnovers. 

Purdue offense vs. Wisconsin defense

Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell has once again been a standout performer for the Boilermakers. The senior is on pace to finish with over 3,500 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s completed 66.2% of his attempts and has thrown for at least 360 yards in four of six games.

Most recently, O’Connell threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-37 win over Nebraska. 

That victory last Saturday also included a season-high output from running back Devin Mockobee, who ran for 178 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Along with his 5.7-yard average, 453 rushing yards and five touchdowns, the freshman has contributed to the passing game with 13 receptions for 130 yards. 

Despite Mockobee’s respectable numbers, Purdue’s ground game isn’t a major threat. The Boilermakers have averaged an unremarkable four yards per carry and 133 rushing yards per game as a team, so Wisconsin’s defense shouldn’t be too concerned up front. 

Rather, Jim Leonhard’s gameplan should prioritize wide receiver Charlie Jones, even if he’s limited by an undisclosed injury. He wasn’t entirely healthy last week but still torched Nebraska for 12 catches, 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

Jones’ 62 receptions rank second in the nation and his 735 yards seventh. The Iowa transfer’s modest 6’0” frame hasn’t stopped him from being a force in the red zone, as he’s caught nine touchdowns. 

Unless they find a new gear we’ve yet to see, neither of Wisconsin’s starting cornerbacks can handle Jones in single coverage. Bracketing Jones with a safety would make life easier for Jay Shaw and Ricardo Hallman, both of whom were exposed in the Michigan State loss

Doubling Jones may be the only way to prevent another game-breaking performance, even if it creates opportunities for Purdue’s other pass-catchers.

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Tight end Payne Durham has 33 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns, while receiver TJ Sheffield has hauled in 22 passes for 254 yards and his own trio of touchdowns. Both are threats – especially if Wisconsin pays Jones the attention he deserves. 

One weakness in Purdue’s offense has been turnovers. O’Connell and co. have given the ball away 12 total times this season and seven times in the last three games. 

Unfavorable as the matchup may be for the Badger defense, a timely takeaway or two could be the difference. Wisconsin’s only takeaway versus Michigan State was an intercepted throw-away on a broken field goal play. This week, more may be necessary. 

Wisconsin offense vs. Purdue defense

How will Graham Mertz’s rollercoaster of a 2022 season continue this week? He managed only 131 yards against Michigan State, which fielded one of the worst pass defenses in college football. 

On paper at least, things will get even tougher for Mertz. The Boilermakers have held opponents to 248 passing yards per game and have tallied 10 interceptions (six in the last three games). Wisconsin’s quarterback has been prone to make poor decisions and is unlikely to get away with such mistakes this week. 

Starting safeties Chris Jefferson and Cam Allen have recorded two and three interceptions, respectively. Further, both have five passes defensed and a pick-six on their 2022 resumes. They could be key to stifling a Wisconsin passing game which has grown increasingly dependent on top receiver Chimere Dike by the week. 

Having allowed 100 rushing yards per game this season, Purdue appears well-equipped to limit Wisconsin’s running game. While Braelon Allen has excelled with 258 yards in his last two games and 5.7 yards per carry on the season, he suddenly appears to have little help behind him.

Chez Mellusi remains out as he recovers from wrist surgery, and Isaac Guerendo has just six total carries over the past four weeks. More handoffs to the speedy Guerendo would both give Allen some much-needed rest and discourage Purdue’s defense from crashing the interior gaps each play. 

Wisconsin’s offense has defied expectations so often this season and may need to do so again if it’s to keep pace with the high-scoring Boilermakers. 

A bittersweet homecoming

Badger fans have every reason to be down on this year’s team. Expected to contend for a Big Ten West title, Wisconsin now finds itself at the basement of the perennially mediocre division. 

Perhaps a return to the home crowd will breathe new life into the Badgers. An up-and-coming Purdue team and one of college football’s best players are in town and a competitive game seems likely. Those factors, along with swirling dreams about the Wisconsin program’s direction under Jim Leonhard, still make Camp Randall the place to be this Saturday afternoon.

Keep a lookout on @cardinal_sports on Twitter, where we’ll once again be live-tweeting updates throughout Saturday’s contest. The Daily Cardinal will also be distributing Gameday issues to celebrate Homecoming, so be sure to grab one near the stadium and read our extensive coverage of the 2022 Wisconsin Badgers. 

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