Purdue looks to spoil No. 6 Wisconsin’s CFB Playoff hopes
The concept is simple enough, but the task is far from easy as No. 6 Wisconsin continues pursuit of a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff berth when it visits Purdue on Saturday (noon ET, ABC) in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Badgers (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) are No. 7 in the CFP rankings, but the first step is winning the conference’s West Division title. They would do so with victories over the Boilermakers on Saturday and Minnesota on Nov. 26.
Next would be the Big Ten championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis and a matchup with Michigan (No. 2 in the CFP rankings), Ohio State (No. 3) or Penn State (No. 8). The CFP committee would be hard-pressed to leave out an 11-2 Wisconsin team, especially if it were to atone for one of its regular-season losses to the Wolverines or Buckeyes and own a seven-game winning streak at that point.
The Badgers benefited from Clemson, Michigan and Washington — then the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the CFP rankings — losing last week, but Wisconsin senior running back Dare Ogunbowale said: "Even if those teams won, we know that if we take care of what we have to take care of, we can be in a good situation.
"We’ve been doing a good job and coach (Paul) Chryst has been doing a good job of making sure that we stay focused week to week and being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future."
The task at hand Saturday is facing the Boilermakers, and the Badgers are heavily favored to defeat them for the 11th consecutive time.
Purdue (3-7, 1-6) absorbed its fifth straight loss last week — a 45-17 thrashing by Northwestern — and is 0-4 since interim coach Gerad Parker took over for Darrell Hazell, who was fired Oct. 16 after a 49-35 loss to Iowa.
Wisconsin appears to have a decided edge in the running game. The Boilermakers own the second-worst rush defense in the Big Ten, while the Badgers gained a season-high 363 yards on the ground in a 48-3 victory over Illinois last week.
Leading the way for Wisconsin was senior Corey Clement (928 yards, 10 touchdowns this season), who rushed for 123 yards and three scores. Ogunbowale added 103 yards.
Freshman Alex Hornibrook (seven touchdowns, seven interceptions) and senior Bart Houston (four, three) share the duties at quarterback and aren’t asked to do much since Wisconsin’s winning formula is dominated by running the ball and defense.
The Badgers own the No. 5 rushing defense in the nation and also possess ballhawks in junior safety D’Cota Dixon (team-high four interceptions) and senior safety Leo Musso, who recorded two of Wisconsin’s four interceptions last week. Musso and junior cornerback Derrick Tindal each have three picks on the season.
"Leo’s meant a tremendous amount to this defense," Badgers senior linebacker Vince Biegel said. "He’s a great leader both on and off the field. He’s a good person. He’s a leader in the defensive back room, and it’s nice as a defensive player, as a front seven guy, to have a guy like that behind you to have your back."
Tindal and senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton have 13 passes defended apiece, tied for 11th in the country.
"Teams that turn the ball over or get turnovers have a lot to do with the win and loss outcomes," Shelton said. "Our whole thing in our room is just being stingy. If you give us a chance, we’re going to run with it."
Sophomore quarterback David Blough (21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) needs 79 yards to record the 12th 3,000-yard season in Purdue history. His favorite target is senior wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who averages 19.4 yards per 37 receptions with seven touchdowns.
Parker, who was elevated from wide receivers coach, vows to turn things around after the Boilermakers allowed 151 points in their past three games — 97 after intermission.
"We certainly are not excited or happy with the results of the second half again," Parker said after the Northwestern game. "Right now that is on my watch, and I know the fans are not excited about it. Nobody will take it more personal than I will.
"This is not what the Purdue football program should be, and we certainly have not gotten it done in our own stadium. It’s something that will continue to be addressed by me, and we will find ways to finish this thing out."