No. 19 Wisconsin tries to refocus vs. Purdue
MADISON, Wis. (AP)
Yes, the Badgers' secondary has faced plenty of scrutiny after giving up a pair of long passes for stunning late collapses in back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State. And Wisconsin's special teams have been questioned after allowing a pair of blocked punts and a blocked field goal in those games.
Still, the Badgers (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) might not have been in position to lose in the first place if their big, bad offensive line had played up to its reputation. Left guard Travis Frederick said the Buckeyes' defense had a few new wrinkles they hadn't shown on film last Saturday, but said that wasn't an excuse.
''We did not play well on the offensive line, no bones about it,'' Frederick said. ''Assignment-wise we did OK but just technique things (were off). We weren't getting our second step on the ground or we were tripping, guys were on the ground here or there. So it was a lot of little things.''
Little things that might suddenly have Purdue (4-4, 2-2) thinking about a big upset.
''I'm a competitive person,'' Boilermakers coach Danny Hope said. ''Being the underdog doesn't deter my belief in winning. We've won a lot of big games over the years that we were underdogs before the game. Once the game starts, all the bets are off.''
After allowing Russell Wilson to get sacked only five times in the first six games of the season, the Badgers struggled in pass protection when they came up against two of the Big Ten's better defenses. Wilson was sacked five times in the past two games.
''When you're playing the Ohio States of the world, the Michigan States, it's going to be great competition,'' Wilson said. ''I definitely believe we can match that competition without a doubt in my mind. We definitely have a lot of talent on our football team, and we just have to find ways to capitalize on certain plays. And I believe that if we can do that, we'll have a chance to continue to win and just and play great.''
And while the Badgers' running game was decent the past two weeks - Montee Ball had an off night against the Buckeyes and still had 85 yards and a touchdown - it wasn't nearly as dominant as it was earlier in the season.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema acknowledged that his formidable line gave up too much ground against the Buckeyes.
''Ohio State's Ohio State,'' Bielema said. ''They've got good defensive linemen. I wouldn't say across the board they won all the time, but they won their fair share. And the part that I think our offensive line has always prided themselves on how they play the hole - and as a group, that wasn't there. And that was a big factor in the game, so it's one that I know they take it as a challenge, and they'll move forward.''
While the Boilermakers don't present a pass-rushing force equal to the Spartans or Buckeyes - Purdue has 11 sacks in eight games, tied for second-fewest in the Big Ten - Wisconsin's line may be tested by defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Hope knows his team has to put some pressure on Wilson to have a chance.
''I think it all starts up front,'' Hope said. ''If we don't play well up front, (their) great ballcarriers do what they do. If you can't manufacture some kind of pass rush, their quarterback is extremely efficient.''
Given what the Badgers have given up the past two weeks, they can't take anything for granted. After all, they're actually tied with Purdue, along with Ohio State, for second place in the Big Ten Leaders division.
''I think defensive line-wise, they've got a couple of big guys inside that are going to be a very difficult task for us,'' Bielema said. ''They're athletic at the linebacker spot, so it's definitely going to be a tough contest. And you know, right now, like I said, in our division, they're 2-2 just like we are, so it's a dead-even match right now.''
After the past two weeks, Ball doesn't want to see the Badgers get off to another slow start and give the Boilermakers a chance.
''They play hard and they've been on top of a couple teams early, so we've got to make sure we start fast,'' Ball said. ''We've got to make sure we start fast or they'll be on top of us. They play with a lot of heart. We have to start fast or we're going to hurt ourselves.''
And while Wisconsin has seen a potential shot at the national championship fizzle over the past two weeks, center Peter Konz said it's actually a little easier to focus this week.
''Before, you'd want to say `We're going to do this and this, and this is how the season is going to go,''' Konz said. ''Now you're focused on every game just because every game is very important. There's added emphasis because now we have two losses and now we have to get back to the basics, and we have to get back to just focusing on this week. There's really no (looking) at the future, it's focusing on what we have ahead of us.''
Freelancer Tammy Madsen contributed to this report.