The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The seventh-ranked Wisconsin Badgers continue their pursuit of the Big Ten title, when they take on the Purdue Boilermakers this weekend in West Lafayette.
Bret Bielema's Badgers are just a half game back in the Big Ten standings but has posted three straight wins, including two against conference contenders Ohio State (31-18) and Iowa (31-30). The team was idle this past weekend, gaining valuable rest for the homestretch this month.
The Boilermakers are a disappointing 4-4 on the year and have had to deal with numerous injuries. The team has split four league tilts and was completely embarrassed last weekend at Illinois, falling to the Illini in a 44-10 rout.
However, Bielema knows that Purdue will present a challenge in West Lafayette.
"As far as Purdue, obviously [they] had two back-to-back games that were rough for them. They were on the road, now are coming back home. They played very well the last time they were there, [the] Minnesota game, probably their best game overall. So they play very well at home, and we're going to have to embrace the challenge, again, about going on the road."
Wisconsin holds a 40-29-8 advantage in the series with Purdue and has won the last four meetings, including a 37-0 shutout of the Boilermakers last season in Madison.
The Badgers are one of the top offensive teams in the nation, averaging 35.6 ppg, on a hefty 423.0 yards of total offense. While the team is getting balance between the run and the pass, it is the lethal ground game that sets everything up. Wisconsin is churning out 221.4 yards rushing per game on 5.2 yards per carry. It has allowed the passing attack to manage just over 200 yards per outing.
Tailbacks John Clay (887 yards, 5.5 ypc, 13 TDs) and James White (570 yards, 6.6 ypc, nine TDs) have been a dynamic duo in the backfield, responsible for 22 of the team's 27 rushing scores to date.
The success on the ground has taken the pressure off QB Scott Tolzien, who has taken full advantage, completing 71.8 percent of his passes, for 1,558 yards and eight TDs. Tight end Lance Kendricks has clearly been the top target, leading the way in receptions (27), receiving yards (417) and TDs (three). The passing game has been able to thrive to a certain extent thanks to an offensive line that has relinquished a mere six sacks on the year.
The Wisconsin defense has certainly been solid against both the run (115.2 ypg) and the pass (201.9 ypg) this year, but a lack of forced turnovers (seven) has been problematic.
Linebackers Blake Sorensen (48 tackles, two INTs) and Culmer St. Jean (46 tackles) headline the defense in the middle. Defensive end J.J. Watt (39 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) has been a force up front.
The Boilermakers will have their hands full this week, as they have failed the show the ability to match score for score with potent offensive teams. Purdue is averaging a mere 18.1 ppg this season and doing it on just 311.5 yards of total offense.
The loss of QB Robert Marve to a knee injury has left uncertainty under center in West Lafayette. Redshirt freshman Rob Henry has certainly taken his lumps passing the ball, completing just 50.5 percent of his passes, for 501 yards, with three TDs and four INTs. Cortez Smith has been the top target down the field, but his modest numbers (22 receptions, for 255 yards, two TDs) tell the tale of Purdue's lack of production passing the football.
The ground game has been much better, with tailback Dan Dierking (403 yards, 6.0 ypc, three TDs) and Henry (391 yards, 5.5 ypc, four TDs) pacing a rush attack that is netting 174.6 ypg.
The Purdue defense has taken it on the chin the last two outings, as Ohio State and Illinois have combined for 93 points. Still, this is a squad that has had its moments this season and has certainly thrived in terms of rushing the passer, amassing 24 sacks in the first eight games.
Leading the way in that area has been DE Ryan Kerrigan (49 tackles, 18.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) and DT Kawann Short (32 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks).