BY JEFF BERNIER
Heading into their third week of conference play, it is clear that Wisconsin isn’t getting soft-toss matchups like Hawaii, Troy, or Miami (OH) anymore. Looking like a well-oiled machine pre-conference, the Wisconsin Badgers (4-2) offense has sputtered over the first two conferences games.
Star running back Corey Clement continues to be sidelined while he recovers from sports hernia surgery.
The best cure of not-so-good offense is an abysmal defense and that is exactly what the Badgers will be up against early on Saturday when they host the Boilermakers of Purdue (1-5). Purdue is surrendering 215.2 rushing yards per game, including a whopping 326 last week in their 41-13 loss to Minnesota.
In last week’s thrilling victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Badgers simply could not get the running game rolling through the game’s first three quarters. But as they say, persistence pays, and the fourth quarter was a completely different story. Instead of abandoning the run game, as teams on every level are quick to do, Wisconsin remained steadfast.
Dare Ogunbowale had runs of 15, 32, and 12 yards as the Badgers ran the ball on 15 of their first 24 plays of the decisive fourth quarter.
Although the Badgers should hardly be bothered by the Boilermakers in the running game, if they do encounter struggles, expect Wisconsin head football coach Paul Chryst to stick with it like last Saturday.
“I think that is the nature of the run game,” noted senior quarterback Joel Stave. “Early in the game both teams are excited and running the ball can be tough against a good front like Nebraska. But I thought the O-line did a good job down the stretch kind of wearing them down. Keep leaning on them and eventually you’re going to get some runs that pop.”
Wisconsin is confident it can summon the right game strategy on the fly. It takes just a little bit of attention paid to your opponent in order to be successful, according Joe Rudolph, UW’s offensive coordinator.
“I think you do a good job of watching, do a good job of seeing where you aren’t successful,” said Rudolph. “…you kind of tweak a couple things, you talk on the sideline.”
The key to victory for the Badgers lies in their ability to convert on third-down, a task with which they have struggled during conference competition. It’s arguably the reason they lost at home to Iowa, and the issue was present during the game last week at Nebraska.
Wisconsin has converted just 31% of its third-down chances, good for only 7th in the Big Ten.
The Badgers have been working on it in practice, and will look to up that percentage Saturday, according to senior #1 receiver Alex Erickson.
“We’re putting a lot of focus on it,” said Erickson. “That’s one of the things that is tough. We’re getting different looks and teams are bringing pressure …but it is what an offense needs to be good at to sustain drives and put points on the board.”
If Purdue has any chance of victory, they will need their freshman quarterback David Blough to be effective. So far on the season, Blough has thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns.
Freshman tailback Markell Jones has been a bright spot for the underwhelming Boilermakers. Jones has found the end zone five times already this season and is averaging a healthy 5.8 yards per carry.
He’ll have his hands full against a stout Badgers run defense, however.
Wisconsin is 45-28-9 against Purdue all time.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Purdue 7
Game time: Sunday, October 17, 11:00 AM CT on BTN, BTN2; Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI