The Wisconsin football team faces quite a challenge this Saturday when they travel to West Lafayette to face off with the #25 Purdue Boilermakers.
Based on how the seasons are going for each team, this feels like it’s going to be a very difficult game for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s defense has still been consistently great, but the offense still can’t get things to click. They are coming off of back-to-back wins over Illinois and Army. You could look at that and think neither team is that great, so we still don’t have a great read on the team, or you could look at it from the lens of this Wisconsin football team is gaining momentum. Either way, they aren’t where we’d all hoped they would be at the beginning of the season.
Purdue, on the other hand, is 4-2 on the season and coming off a huge win over then-no. 2 Iowa in Iowa City. With that win, the Boilermakers entered the top 25 in this week’s AP Poll and are ranked the 25th for the first time in a long while.
With all that in mind, the Wisconsin football team is still a 3-point favorite to win on the road on Saturday.
Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but the Badgers never seem to play as well as they are capable when they are at Purdue. Mix that in with the fact that the offense is really struggling this year, and I just don’t necessarily see the Badgers coming out of the game victorious. I hope I’m wrong. But if they are going to win this game, they will absolutely need to do these three things to leave Purdue as winners.
1. Slow down George Karlaftis
Karliftis had a big impact on the field last week against no. 2 Iowa. According to ProFootball Focus, Karliftis had a sack and 10 hurries against the Hawkeyes. He didn’t let them get comfortable passing the ball, which is a big reason why the Hawkeyes scored just seven points.
The Badgers, who had a struggling offensive line this season, are going to have to slow down Karliftis. I don’t think it’s going to be possible to stop him completely, but they will have to do what they can to give Mertz some time to throw. When Mertz has time to throw, he’s been decent this year. But when he’s under pressure, bad things happen.
I think we are going to see tight ends and running backs chipping him all game to slow him down. If they don’t, Mertz and this Wisconsin offense are in for a long, long afternoon. BadgersWire’s Ben Kenney had a nice thread on Twitter with examples of what Karliftis is capable of and what Wisconsin is going to need to avoid.
Another potential problem that comes with Karliftis is the fact that Jake Ferguson may be needed to help block more. This is a problem because Ferguson is clearly Mertz’s top target. If Ferguson is in blocking, the passing game could struggle even more.
2. Contain David Bell
I’d like to think the Wisconsin and Iowa defenses are pretty similar. They both have had very good defenses in the past and continue to this year. Even though Iowa’s defense is one of the best, David Bell still dominated them. Bell had a career-high 240 receiving yards on 11 receptions and a touchdown.
He hurt the Hawkeyes where the Badgers have struggled in pass defense this year: the deep ball.
The Wisconsin football defense has been burned a couple of times on deep balls this year, like in Week 1 against Penn State when Dotson got behind the coverage and scored a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter, giving the Nittany Lions their first points.
Wisconsin can’t let David Bell take over the game as he did against Iowa. I trust the Badgers to slow down and take out the Boilermaker’s running attack, so if they can contain David Bell I think the Badgers will have a lot better chance at winning this game.
3. Run the ball and control the clock
It’s simple. The more the Badgers have the football, the less the Boilermakers have it. Unless Mertz is throwing pick-sixes, the Boilermakers can’t score when the Badgers are on offense.
This running game seems to be getting back to where we expected it. The emergence of Braelon Allen is a big reason why. He and Chez Mellusi are creating a heck of a two-headed monster for the Wisconsin football team.
The Badgers are a much better football team when they can consistently run the ball. Luckily for them, the Boilermaker defense allows 3.49 yards per rush and gives up 116 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the country. They weren’t that high a week ago, but they gave up just 76 total rushing yards against Iowa, who had to focus on passing the ball after they started getting down big and couldn’t focus on the run. This Purdue defense gave up 175 yards on the ground to Illinois, which Wisconsin shut down for just 26 yards on the ground.
Being able to run the ball effectively should also help neutralize Karliftis as well. If the Badgers can run the ball, wear down the Purdue defense and win the time of possession, I like Wisconsin’s chances to win this game.