Heading into Saturday’s game against the Purdue Boilermakers, there are several streaks the Wisconsin football team hopes to end before the calendar turns to November.
It has been four weeks since the Badgers won a football game. In its last two games, Wisconsin has been outscored by 14 points or more in the second half.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien has not had an interception-free game since September. Tolzien also has not thrown a touchdown pass, nor has running back John Clay reached the end zone since the last UW victory.
That being said, the Badgers have not exactly made any major changes over the bye week.
“I don’t think we really need to do anything differently,” sophomore receiver Nick Toon said. “We just need to execute and, you know, not beat ourselves.”
With the way Wisconsin has played for most of the month of October, though, that is definitely easier said than done.
And while Purdue may not come in with the high accolades of Ohio State or Iowa, the Boilermakers are a team that has made some noise recently with an upset of the then-No. 7 Buckeyes just two weeks ago.
More importantly, several of Purdue’s strengths seem to fit right in line with Wisconsin weaknesses. In particular, the Boilermakers’ spread offense will likely pose some challenges and may result in more 3-3-5 looks — the “Badger Package” — defensively for UW.
On the other side of the ball, Purdue is a threat both through the air and on the ground, as the Boilermakers rank third and sixth in the conference, respectively.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Joey Elliott ranks second in the Big Ten with 252.8 passing yards per game, while also picking up nearly 30 yards rushing per game. On the ground, sophomore running back Ralph Bolden is third in the conference with 90 rushing yards per contest.
“What he’s really done a good job of is taking advantage of pass rush lanes,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said of Elliott. “People get overly concerned about getting up field and getting after the passer, and they open up gaps. … In addition to not only running through those holes, he does a good job of finding windows to get rid of the football.”
Elliott and Bolden will provide a stiff test for a Wisconsin linebacking corps that is not at 100 percent after losing redshirt freshman Mike Taylor against Iowa.
Taylor, a native of Ashwaubenon, Wis., is the Badgers’ leading tackler with 46 total tackles and is third on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss.
In Taylor’s place, true freshman Chris Borland will start and junior Blake Sorenson will see an increased workload as well, filling in as the top backup at all three linebacker positions.
“Blake’s been kind of one of the unsung heroes, you know,” Bielema said. “He maybe statistically hasn’t popped up, but he’s been there. He’s been really the backup for all three linebacker positions since fall camp … and knows them very, very well.”
On the other side of the ball, the strength of the Boilermaker front four — especially defensive end Ryan Kerrigan — will once again test a UW offensive line that has struggled.
“He kind of reminds me of OB (O’Brien Schofield),” Bielema said of Kerrigan. “I mean, you talk about two defensive ends that no one really probably knew their name before the season started — other than their respective programs — and (now) you definitely got to know where he’s lined up.”
Strong blocking up front will be important for Wisconsin’s offensive attack, especially to protect Tolzien and open up running lanes for Clay, two things that did not happen in the Wisconsin losses.
After picking up just 67 yards per game in the UW losses, Clay hopes the time off during the bye week will be just what the sophomore back needs to get back to the form he showed against Michigan State and Minnesota, two games in which he averaged 163 rushing yards and scored a total of four times.
“I’m good, I’ve just been working out and getting a lot of extra treatment,” Clay said. “That bye week gave me a chance to heal my body right and get as much rest as I needed. But I’m just going to keep running hard and try to help this team win Saturday.”
Likewise, the Badgers expect senior tight end Garrett Graham to be back and at 100 percent after leaving the game with a concussion against the Hawkeyes.
And after two weeks between games, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst expects everyone to be ready Saturday for Purdue.
“We’ll find out, but I like the way the guys approached the bye week,” Chryst said. “They better be ready.”