This is the ninth in a 12-week Friday series looking at the Wisconsin football team’s 2014 opponents.
There’s really no other way to put it: Purdue’s football program was all kinds of awful in coach Darrell Hazell’s first season in charge last year. The Boilermakers finished 1-11, including 0-8 in Big Ten play. They lost by an average of more than three touchdowns per game, came within single digits only twice in the last 10 contests and barely defeated an FCS foe for the program’s only win.
Here are just some of the categories Purdue ranked dead last in among Big Ten teams last season: points per game (14.9), total offense (282.9 yards per game), rushing offense (67.1 yards per game), first downs per game (14.8), field-goal accuracy rate (50 percent) and total sacks (14).
At least Purdue ranked first in net punting average with 41.7 yards per kick. Unfortunately, punter Cody Webster is gone. Time to reload.
Personnel: Purdue’s offense should look more dynamic this season — and the Boilermakers will need every ounce of it to turn around their fortunes. Quarterback Danny Etling is in line to be the starter after appearing in eight games last season. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,690 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Boilermakers should be much better in their rushing attack given the talent that is there. Akeem Hunt is back for his senior season after leading the team with 464 yards rushing. Raheem Mostert, a converted wide receiver and one of the fastest players in the conference, should earn more carries as well. He carried only 11 times for 43 yards last season.
In the passing game, receiver DeAngelo Yancey returns. He caught 32 passes for 546 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Justin Sinz provides a nice safety valve after catching a team-best 41 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns.
It remains to be seen how much time Etling will have to throw as Purdue re-tools its offensive line. Only center Robert Kugler is back among the team’s starters from a year ago. There is plenty of talent available, but the Boilermakers’ lack of experience should show. Purdue quarterbacks were sacked 38 times last season, which was tops in the Big Ten.
On defense, Purdue has a long way to go to compete with the best in the conference. The Boilermakers allowed 38.0 points and 459.9 yards per game last season. They also surrendered 235.4 yards rushing per game, which ranked 114th nationally.
Defensive back Anthony Brown is the leading returning tackler (69 tackles). Safety Taylor Richards was third on the team in tackles with 64 and defensive back Frankie Williams fourth (61). But it should say something that three of the team’s top four tacklers from a year ago were in the secondary. At linebacker, Purdue will be led by Joe Gilliam (31 tackles) and Jalani Phillips (nine tackles).
Running roadblock: How bad was Purdue’s running game last year? Consider that Wisconsin’s third-string tailback, Corey Clement, had more rushing touchdowns on 67 carries (seven) than Purdue’s entire team had on 319 carries (six). Purdue’s per-game average of 67.1 yards rushing was worse than every FBS team except for Washington State. But at least the Cougars ranked fourth nationally in passing offense. Purdue ranked 77th.
One-sided series: Wisconsin has won eight consecutive games against Purdue in the series, dating to 2004. During that span, the Badgers have won by an average score of 36-12. The only time Purdue came within single digits was in 2004, when Wisconsin won 20-17.
Possession game: It’s no surprise that Purdue was one of the worst Big Ten teams in the time of possession category last season. Purdue’s average time of possession was 27 minutes, 34 seconds, ahead of only Indiana’s up-tempo offense. Wisconsin, which wore down opponents thanks to a stellar running game, was first in the Big Ten in time of possession, averaging 33 minutes, 34 seconds per game.