Big Ten Conference action gets underway this Saturday, as the Purdue Boilermakers pay a visit to the 24th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
Purdue is 1-2 on the young season, having sandwiched its lone victory (20-14 over FCS foe Indiana State) with losses to both Cincinnati (42-7) and most recently, intrastate rival Notre Dame (31-24). The Boilermakers, who will play their final non-league game on the schedule next Saturday versus Northern Illinois, would love to give new head coach Darrell Hazell a win in his first Big Ten bout.
Standing in their way is a Wisconsin club which began the season at 2-0, but dropped a 32-30 decision at Arizona State last weekend in controversial fashion. The Badgers seemingly had a shot late, but a botched kneel-down attempt by QB Joel Stave meant the Sun Devils would hold on and send the visitors packing with a gut-wrenching defeat.
Despite the disappointing outcome, UW head coach Gary Andersen praised his team's effort.
"I was very proud of them; I am unbelievably proud of the football program, they kept battles on both sides. These kids were resilient. It's emotional for me to be in a position with my kids to play that hard and then they lose."
Wisconsin leads the all-time series with Purdue, 43-29-8, and the Badgers have won each of the last seven meetings.
The Boilermakers led their recent clash with Notre Dame for three quarters, but couldn't hold as they lost by seven points to their Hoosier State rivals. Rob Henry hit the mark on 25-of-40 pass attempts for 256 yards, three TDs and one interception, with Akeem Hunt catching nine balls for 72 yards and a score. While doing well in the pass game, Hunt really struggled on the ground, tallying a mere 22 yards on 12 carries, the Boilermakers averaging only 1.8 ypc in finishing with 38 net rushing yards. He did, however return the opening kickoff 99 yards for a TD, and earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors as a result.
Notre Dame fared only marginally better on the ground (2.5 ypc, 91 yards), but got 309 passing yards and two TDs from QB Tommy Rees. Taylor Richards led the PU defense with nine tackles, and the unit as a whole registered six TFL, but only one sack and a single turnover.
The Purdue offense is generating just 17.0 points and 268.0 yards per game to this point, while the defense allows 29.0 points and 373.3 yards per affair. The team typically runs for a mere 79.0 ypg, and had only two rushing scores.
Henry has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 567 yards, three TDs and three interceptions, while Hunt is high man in both rushing (41 carries, 125 yards) and receiving (12 rec., 115 yards, one TD).
Richards paces the defense with 17 tackles, while three others (Bruce Gaston, Ryan Russell, Jalani Phillips) have logged two sacks each.
Despite a balanced attack that amassed 441 yards of total offense, the Badgers suffered their first loss of the season at Arizona State last Saturday night. Melvin Gordon turned 15 carries into a whopping 193 yards and two TDs for Wisconsin, while Stave wound up going 15-of-30 for 187 yards and a score. Jared Ebbrederis caught six balls for 87 yards to lead the receiving corps.
Arizona State tallied 468 total yards in the contest, 352 of which came through the air, and the Badgers were led on defense by three players (Ethan Armstrong, Chris Borland, Michael Caputo) who logged double-digit stops.
Despite the obvious negative feelings surrounding the outcome, the Badgers have been on top of their game for the most part this season, putting up 41.0 ppg while yielding just 10.7 ppg -- that latter figure of course coming as a result of the two shutouts the team pitched in easy wins against UMass and Tennessee Tech to begin the season.
They have more than doubled up the opposition in terms of total yardage (1,645-793), and Stave has completed 63.2 percent of his pass attempts for 603 yards, six TDs against only two picks. Gordon (37 carries, 477 yards, four TDs), who is the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career rushing yards, leads a potent ground attack (337 ypg, 10 TDs), and he gets help from both James White and Corey Clement who each have more than 250 rushing yards and have combined for five TDs. Abbrederis is clearly the top option down the field, hauling in twice as many balls as his closest teammate with 16 grabs for 271 yards and three scores.
Borland heads the defensive unit with 24 stops, and he has the club's only sack thus far. Wisconsin averages two takeaways per outing, and has been particularly adept at stopping the run (86.7 ypg).