MILWAUKEE (AP) This has been an odd season so far for the Wisconsin offense.
The traditionally strong running game is chugging along in fits and starts. The leading receiver has more yards than the leading tailback. Injuries have forced coaches to mix and match up front as if they were coordinating hockey line changes.
A visit to Madison this weekend by Purdue could provide just the midseason confidence boost that the Badgers need to dial their rushing attack back up.
The Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) are giving up a league-worst 215 yards per game on the ground, and they haven’t beaten Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) in 12 years. To their credit, the Badgers are saying all the right things.
”They have good athletes on the edge and are physical. They’re in the right spots and are well-coached,” receiver Alex Erickson said. ”You know they’re going to come in here and give you their best shot.”
At least the Boilermakers can draw some confidence from a 24-21 loss two weeks ago at then-No. 2 Michigan State. The Spartans didn’t put Purdue away until the final minute of the game.
All that momentum disappeared after the Boilermakers lost 41-13 last week to Minnesota following a 28-point outburst in the third quarter by the Golden Gophers.
The one constant between the losses has been a porous run defense. They gave up an average of 296 yards on the ground over the two losses.
Wisconsin gained confidence in the rushing attack in last week’s 23-21 victory over Nebraska after Dare Ogunbowale ran for a career-high 117 yards on 18 carries. He’s the starter following injuries to Corey Clement (sports hernia) and Taiwan Deal (ankle).
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell placed emphasis this week on sure tackling.
”If you don’t stop the run, that breaks your will,” he said.
Some notes and things to watch ahead of the homecoming weekend game at Wisconsin:
BADGERS BOOST: A late-game drive that set up Rafael Gaglianone’s 46-yard field goal with 4 seconds left against Nebraska did wonders for Wisconsin’s mindset. The offense produced in a clutch situation in a tough road environment.
”We’ve got to learn how to play in close games and know that the margin of error as you get into Big Ten play is less and less,” coach Paul Chryst said.
BOILER DOWN: That lesson may have to wait for another day, though. Purdue has lost nine straight in the series, losing by an average of 23 points.
MAKE IT SIMPLE: Purdue redshirt freshman quarterback David Blough is 36 of 80 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in two Big Ten games. That won’t cut it for a team that must scratch and claw to win league games. Hazell decided this week to simplify the game plan. Blough said coaches had him focusing on proper footwork.
”We just need to get his feet a little bit more stable in the pocket,” Hazell said. He also wanted offensive players to make concentrated efforts on finishing blocks.
TOUGH D: Turning back Wisconsin’s defense will be a challenge. Coordinator Dave Aranda’s unit is fifth nationally in scoring defense (11.5 points) and 12th in yards allowed (285.8 yards). Linebacker Joe Schobert could be in for another big day on Saturday. He leads the country with 13 1/2 tackles for loss, and is second with nine sacks.
LINE UP: Chryst indicated on Thursday that starting center Dan Voltz could be ready for the Purdue game. Voltz left the closing seconds of the win over Nebraska with an arm injury. Losing Voltz would be another blow for a line that has struggled all season to field a healthy lineup. The Badgers do have Beau Benzschawel back at right tackle after the redshirt freshman missed the first five games of the season with a knee injury.
AP freelance writer Dennis Semrau in Madison contributed to this story.
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