After a vintage run attack against Nebraska last weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers will look to build on the momentum they left Lincoln with and bring it to Camp Randall on Saturday.
Wisconsin will be running into a potential buzzsaw in the form of the Purdue Boilermakers, though. With a 3-2 record, Purdue has shutdown Missouri’s offense and held P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota offense to 17 points.
Simply, Purdue is playing fast, physical and confident.
“I see a defense that is playing fast. Certainly well designed with fits and things that come off of it and compliment each other. They have some really good players,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said.
Purdue’s defense is all over the field. Through their five games, so far, they have accumulated 17 total pass breakups, four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 21 tackles for loss. The most dynamic players on their defense are their linebackers.
Senior linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley is second on the team in tackles with 34, four of them for a loss. Like many Wisconsin linebackers though, he is more than a run stopper. Bentley has two pass breakups and one interception on the season.
Bentley is joined by sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey who also has impacted the passing game with one interception. He has added 31 total tackles to go along with his two sacks.
The best way for Wisconsin to combat dynamic linebackers is with a running game. Luckily, this is what Wisconsin has been doing best this season.
Against Nebraska, running back Jonathan Taylor averaged 10 yards per carry on his way to 249 rush yards and two touchdowns. It was Taylor’s second 200+ yard performance of the season as he has burst onto the scene and into the Heisman conversation.
Running back Rashid Ibrahim also had a nice game coming in to replace passing down back Chris James when the latter suffered a leg injury. Ibrahim averaged over seven yards a carry and proved effective in Wisconsin’s system.
“I think he had a chance to show, the other night. But he’s been a good addition to this team and I think a good addition in the running back room,” Chryst said of Ibrahim’s performance. “It meant something for him to contribute.”
Forcing the run early, something Wisconsin is historically known for, is a good way to get Purdue’s defense to load the box and open up the passing game for quarterback Alex Hornibrook and his receivers.
Purdue’s defensive back unit is lead by senior cornerback Josh Okonye. He does not impact the running game much but has created an unwelcoming island for opposing receivers. In 2017, Okonye has broken five passes.
Last weekend, Hornibrook was only able to amass 113 yards on a 6.6 average yards per throw. Not the most ideal especially factoring in a pick six he threw in the third quarter allowing Nebraska to tie the game.
He was able to bounce back and throw a nice touchdown to Quintez Cephus however. Through the early part of the season, Hornibrook has shown an uncanny ability to make mistakes but then bounce back and help his team to victory.
One weapon Wisconsin will want to get going in the passing game is tight end Troy Fumagalli. Coming back from injury he posted three catches for 31 yards. Fumagalli is arguably the best player on the team and is crucial on third downs.
And while Wisconsin is preparing for Purdue and their defense, their number one focus is on fixing things under their control and within themselves.
“The number one focus needs to be on us and areas that individually and as a group we need to get better at,” Chryst said.