The Badgers travel to Purdue to take on the Boilermakers. Here are our five big questions:
1. Will Bret Bielema just let them play?
Bret Bielema’s tinkering is becoming a matter of increasing consternation. Last week the dicking around reached a ludicrous level when Bielema yanked Joel Stave for two plays so Curt Phillips could get involved. Zone read package? Two bad plays later, Joel Stave had to try and bail Bielema out on third and long. He threw an interception. So much for helping the young freshman build his confidence. Stave thankfully was able to settle in after that and play well, with help from the running game. And Matt Canada called a couple of brilliant plays to soften up the defense. No thanks to Smarty Bielema, the Badgers were able to get on-track offensively really for the first time all season. Can they get that going once again vs. Purdue? Maybe. If they do it won’t be because of Curt Phillips and the zone read package.
2. How much havoc will Kawann Short wreak?
I’m not really looking forward to the match-up of Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short vs. the interior of the Badgers’ offensive line. Travis Frederick has not been great at center, and the two guys flanking him, Ryan Groy and Zac Matthias/Kyle Costigan, have not been that impressive either. If you’re not running the ball well up the middle? It’s because the guys blocking in there aren’t getting it done. Kawann Short has a chance for a big game against those guys inside. He has four sacks on the year and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t end up adding to that total against Joel Stave who doesn’t feel the rush that well yet. And Short is certain to be a force against the run as well. The Badgers could use a game-changing defensive lineman like him. They haven’t had one since J.J. Watt left town.
3. Can the Badgers put together a solid start-to-finish game on the road?
The Badgers have two losses this year, both on the road. Big deal, right? They’re never great on the road. But the frustrating thing is that they had a chance to win both of those games. It was a dogfight with Oregon State and if they could’ve made a couple plays late they would’ve pulled that one out. And in Nebraska…well we know what happened there. Nebraska is the better team – blow-out loss to Ohio State notwithstanding – but they didn’t start well and the Badgers got up. When you get up on a team like that you have to finish them and the Badgers didn’t. That was about the only time all year the Badgers really started well, but they totally faded in the second half. They never really fully got on-track against Oregon State. Purdue isn’t on that level so Wisconsin should be able to get up early and stay on top. But I’m not predicting that. I won’t predict anything with this team except that they’ll find some new way to frustrate us. The important thing is just to be consistent from start to finish. If they do that, Wisconsin’s superior talent will tell the tale. Purdue shouldn’t be able to handle them. Shouldn’t.
4. Which Purdue offense will show up?
Look at the scores of Purdue’s games and you see that their offense has been all over the map. Against Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Marshall they scored 48, 54 and 41. But against Notre Dame and Michigan they scored only 30 points total. They were totally stuffed last week by the Wolverines, and of course Notre Dame’s great defense handled them too. So Purdue has proven they can run up big scores against lesser opponents at home. But the Badger defense is by far the best defense they’ve faced at home this year. So, will Purdue be able to put points on the board against Wisconsin? They have a couple decent receivers in Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross. The question is, who will be throwing them the ball? There was talk of Caleb TerBush being benched after the Michigan game but Danny Hope says they’ll stick with him. There was some thought that Robert Marve might start after giving Purdue a boost last week but he’ll remain the #2. That’s something to keep an eye on. If TerBush struggles, does Hope go Bielema and yank him for Marve? The way things have been going, the Badgers might be fortunate that TerBush is starting.
5. Does Purdue have an answer for Jared Abbrederis?
Abbrederis has been the Badgers’ best offensive weapon this year. He has been deadly on those play action deep balls and double moves. Purdue appears to have a vulnerability against the deep pass. They get a little over-aggressive with their corners and their safeties aren’t great. Seems like the Abbrederis deep bombs will be there if the Badgers can protect Stave. I expect Purdue will come hard on the blitz against Stave like every team and will crash down trying to stop the run. Hopefully the Badgers can burn them a couple times early and get them out of that. Stave will have to stand tall and the offensive line – I’m sick of saying this – will have to be much better.
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