October 29, 2009

Behind enemy lines: Purdue

MADISON - Fresh off a bye week, the Wisconsin football team is poised to break out of a two-game losing streak. If it hopes to do so, it will have to beat a suddenly hot Purdue team that has won back-to-back contests against Ohio State and Illinois.

Looking to find out more about the Boilermakers, BadgerBlitz.com went straight to the source, GoldandBlack.com publisher Brian Neubert, who provided some insights from behind enemy lines.

Read Neubert's thoughts about the Boilers here…

1.) Obviously Purdue has a reputation for a high scoring offensive attack. Throughout the Tiller years it seemed like the Boilermakers were one of the top scoring teams in the league on a yearly basis. With the new coach at the helm, how have things changed offensively? Is Danny Hope's spread different than the one's Tiller used to run?

Neubert: Purdue's pretty much running the same offense, just with different personnel and coaches. This offense is pretty much the same at its core, but it might look different because it's been pretty diverse this season with a lot of different looks, formations and personnel movement.

More than ever this season, Purdue's been just as likely to line up in an I-formation as it is to go with five wide receivers. The play calling, for the most part, has been excellent as was as kind of all over the place for the better.

This isn't your prototypical Purdue offense, though, in that it doesn't have to throw it a million times to move the ball. Against the right match ups, the Boilermakers have been able to run the football pretty effectively with the emergence of sophomore running back Ralph Bolden.

The offense right now is pretty much the same as it's been, with some minor tweaks, but of course it's being run with inherited personnel. We'll see what happens in the years to come as Danny Hope and his staff get to implement more and more.

2.) Looking through some statistics, I notice that Ralph Bolden and Keith Smith comprise a major role on the offense. Outside of those two, who else will UW need to keep their eye on offensively during Saturday's game.

Neubert: Those two are without question the two stars at the offensive skill positions, but wide receiver Aaron Valentin is also having a fine season. He's a nice complement to Smith who should be a first-team All-Big Ten pick.

Valentin's big and physical, but also fast and elusive with the ball in his hands and has been very consistent as a receiver this year after a rocky debut after transferring from junior college last season.

He can still stand to run better routes, but he's Purdue's foremost vertical threat, a great weapon on screen passes and a threat to score from all over the field. He's tied for the Big Ten lead in receiving touchdowns with seven.

3.) Jason Werner has 14.5 tackles-for-loss, good for third in the conference. What is it that makes him tick and how has he had so much success to this point in the season?

Neubert: Well, he actually hasn't had much success in his career so far because he's been hurt for most of it. Werner's been one of the great stories of Purdue's season because he's overcome back problems that more or less ruined his career up to this season. But he's finally stayed healthy and is having a fantastic season. It's been great to see because he's a terrific kid.

He's not the biggest or strongest guy, but he's really fast and really explosive and he's flashed into the backfield to make a lot of plays. He's a real sideline-to-sideline guy who seems to just come from out of nowhere sometimes to make plays.

4.) Over the past two games (obviously two wins for Purdue) the Boilers have done a great job limiting turnovers. And when they do give the ball away, the defense has done a good job preventing the opponents from capitalizing. What has been the biggest difference over the past two games as compared to the first six this season in regards to protecting the ball?

Neubert: Well, for one thing, they've just done a better job covering up, I suppose. They haven't fumbled, which has been a sore spot during the Big Ten season especially.

I also think that the past two games, quarterback Joey Elliott has benefited from the experience he's gotten this season. This is his first year playing, and I think he's kind of come of age lately. He's making better decision and playing with more poise in the pocket than he did earlier in the year. He's a guy who likes getting outside the pocket, but he's done a better job lately letting things develop and trusting his protection.

Purdue didn't turn the ball over at all against Illinois, a first this season. They did, though, still give it away three times against Ohio State. It's just that it overcame them this time. Previously, it seemed like every turnover was a disaster, either directly leading to points or coming in a part of the field where it almost guaranteed points.

It was almost like a hex of sorts. We'll see if they've overcome it for good now. Everyone's going to turn the ball over. It's just a matter of not letting it snowball and cost you game, which is what was happening before.

5.) Finally, both teams sit at 2-2 in league play. How do you see this game going down inside Camp Randall, on Halloween, during Saturday's contest?

Neubert: As I've said all year with Purdue, nothing would surprise me. They're a 3-5 team that's been plenty good enough to have five or six wins by now. They've just been done in so often by their own mistakes. I don't see any reason why they can't win more of their remaining games than they lose because they've more than shown they can compete with anyone.

With that said, though, Purdue's program has lost its last 10 road games for whatever reason. Madison will be wild Saturday for certain. The Boilermakers are going to have to stop the run, which they did well against Ohio State and the defensive line is surging right now.

Purdue's tackling the best it has all season after struggling with it earlier in the year. It should be a good match up, but just because of Purdue's road history, I'm probably inclined to go with the Badgers on their home field, but as I said, nothing would surprise me.


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