MADISON - For two weeks, the Wisconsin football team has had the misfortune of stewing over its second straight loss, this time to the hands of Iowa. With the loss, the Badgers missed an opportunity to vault into the conference lead. Instead, the Badgers sit in the middle of the Big Ten pack.
On Saturday, UW welcomes Purdue into Camp Randall stadium. On the surface, the Boilermakers are a 3-5 team overall with a 2-2 conference mark. But, Purdue is currently riding high after back-to-back wins over Ohio State and Illinois. So regardless of its record, Purdue will be a challenging opponent for the Badgers.
Before kickoff, BadgerBlitz.com gives you, the reader, five things to watch during Saturday's game.
1.) Fresh legs and refocused energy
Obviously the bye week never comes at a good time following a loss because all the players simply want to get back on the field. But still, the bye week gave UW a chance to restore its energy and focus its mind on finishing the second half much like it started.
"You get a chance to get your legs back up under you," UW sophomore cornerback Aaron Henry said. "The bye week went pretty well for us. We had three full days of full padded practices. We just wanted to get better. It gave us a chance to get a jump on Purdue.
"All in all, it just gave us a chance physically to get our legs back up and under us."
It wasn't like the Badgers were being incredibly effective offensively prior to the bye. In fact, in losses to Ohio State and Iowa, UW was only able to score one offensive touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, though, the Badgers were playing pretty solid. And if there is or was any concern regarding losing that rhythm, that can be put to bed because the Badgers claim the tempo has been great over the past two weeks.
"I don't think anything really changed," Moffitt said. "We had Friday and Saturday to relax and rest our legs, but other than that, I don't think things dropped off too much."
2.) UW offensive line against Purdue's defensive line
Through five games, the Badger offensive line had only allowed two sacks, each of which came against Fresno State. Since then and during the two-game skid, UW has given up 10 sacks. Six of those came from the hands of Ohio State.
Now UW is fitted with the task of slowing a suddenly hot front seven from Purdue's defense. The Boilers got to OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor five times and forced multiple turnovers that helped them win the game.
If UW wants to get back in the win column, the offensive line will need to play well and both protect Scott Tolzien and open running lanes for John Clay.
"I think their defensive line is probably a little bit like our defensive line," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "Going into the season, not a lot of people knew a lot about them. Obviously Ryan Kerrigan (DE) is playing very, very well. But all those guys have been valuable contributors and they don't bring a lot of pressure."
3.) UW's secondary
If there has been any true inconsistency to this point in 2009 in regards to the Badger defense it has been the play of the secondary. Too many times the secondary collapses and allows a drive to extend on third down or even worse, gives up a touchdown.
Against Purdue, the corners will be tested yet again as Keith Smith, the Big Ten's leading receiver, comes to town. The play of Niles Brinkley and Devin Smith will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's contest.
"We put the pressure on those four corners, the guys that have been playing for us," Bielema said. "This is a totally different game plan, though, you know. The way our corners needed to play in the Iowa and the Ohio State game are completely different from a physical standpoint than they're going to in the next ball game and really for the remainder of the season."
4.) Can Tolzien bounce back?
It's been a rough three weeks for Tolzien. Following his breakout game against Michigan State to kick off the Big Ten season, Tolzien has steadily made poor decisions that have led to turnovers.
Against Minnesota, Tolzien threw a bad interception and lost a fumble. Then at Ohio State, he threw two interceptions that were returned for a touchdown. Finally, at home against Iowa, he threw a costly interception early in the third quarter that gave the Hawkeyes the momentum needed to win.
If UW is going to win moving forward, he is going to need to revert back to the way he played early in the season.
"For me personally, it was take care of the ball," Tolzien said when asked about what he learned during the bye week. "And I think as an offense it was make plays and find ways to move the ball and find ways to score. When we were having success at the beginning of the year, guys were making plays.
"The last two games we weren't as a collective unit, so that was a big point of emphasis."
5.) First quarter
On the season, Purdue has outscored its opponents 69 to 30. Obviously that means Purdue is fairly successful at getting out to a good start. Anytime a team plays on the road that is a key factor in gauging success.
However, road games have been nightmares for the Boilers as they routinely cough up the ball and struggle when finding ways to win. If the Badgers get out to an early lead, it could serve as good fortune for the Badgers.
I, like the Badgers, am in a two-game slump. I really felt that with the momentum the team had that they would be able to go into the Horseshoe, a place where UW continually finds ways to have success, and make some noise. And in the stat book it did. However, that doesn't count for much when 21 points are put on the board when the Badger defense isn't on the field.
Then against Iowa, UW had just as many chances to get a win and remain a contender in the Big Ten race. Unfortunately for the Badgers, that did not happen. Now, a feisty and suddenly hot Purdue team comes to Madison.
I feel like this will be a high scoring affair. Purdue typically has a spread offense that gives UW defense's fits. But I don't trust the Boiler defense so I believe the Badgers will be able to score. After a two-week layoff, I feel the Badgers will come out with something to prove and show it on the field with a 37-28 win.
Tom Lea can be reached at [email protected].
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