Army's triple-option offense will test the Badgers defense's discipline. How can Wisconsin slow down Army's offense and who should the UW offense lean on?
WHO HAS THE EDGEUpdated
When the Badgers have the ball
Braelon Allen became the first Badgers freshman to post consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Jonathan Taylor in 2017. If he continues producing as he has, it won’t be the last time Allen’s freshman season is compared to Taylor’s breakout campaign. Without a consistent passing game, the Badgers have asked Allen and junior Chez Mellusi to carry the load, and they’ll likely need to this week against Purdue. The Boilermakers are seventh in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing 124.6 yards per contest, including a 175-yard performance by Illinois. They did hold Iowa to 76 yards on 30 carries last week.
Blocking defensive end George Karlaftis will be a whole-offense operation. The tackles clearly must play better after Army’s Andre Carter got pressure and tallied a strip-sack early last week. But those edge blockers will need some help in the way of chip blocks and slide protections. Quarterback Graham Mertz also will have to avoid holding the ball too long and eat a sack without fumbling if it comes down to it.
Tight end Jake Ferguson had four catches in the first half last week, and Purdue has had mixed results against tight ends this season. The Boilermakers held Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer to one catch for 5 yards, but Iowa’s Sam LaPorta have five catches for 61 yards.
After not being targeted last week, perhaps UW receiver Chimere Dike can provide a spark to the Badgers’ offense.
Edge: Slightly Purdue
When Purdue has the ball
The Purdue offense will have to prepare for the man and pressure schemes that UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has utilized against passing offenses this season after seeing almost exclusively zone coverages last week at Iowa.
Wide receiver David Bell deservedly gets the lion’s share of the attention as he leads the conference in receiving yards per game (135.8) and catches per game (7.6). But the Boilermakers have other weapons in receiver Milton Wright and tight end Payne Durham that can pick apart defenses if they’re not covered properly. Purdue’s rushing attack has been pedestrian at best since Zander Horvath was injured in the Connecticut game, averaging 64.5 yards on 29.5 carries over the past four games. The Boilermakers may not even try to run much against UW’s front, which ranks third in the FBS at 64.3 yards allowed per game despite facing a triple-option offense last week.
This will be a test for the Badgers’ front seven to get pressure on quarterback Aidan O’Connell quickly. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and operates from the shotgun, but if outside linebackers Nick Herbig and Noah Burks can get around the edge as quickly as they have at times this season, O’Connell’s not very mobile.
Edge: Slightly Wisconsin
The Badgers lost kick returner Devin Chandler to the transfer portal this week, taking away a speedy weapon from the UW special teams. Purdue and UW are the bottom two teams in the Big Ten in terms of kick returns.
Purdue ranks 13th in the conference in net punting, so a stop in Purdue territory by the defense could lead to advantageous field position for the offense. Purdue kicker Mitchell Fineran is 10 of 12 kicking field goals this season, with both his misses coming between 30-39 yards.
Edge: Slightly Wisconsin
UW’s 14-game win streak over the Boilermakers is the program’s longest active win streak over any opponent and tied for the third-longest win streak in school history over an opponent. UW notched 17 victories over Marquette from 1944 to 1960. The streak against Purdue is tied for the program’s longest ever against a Big Ten opponent with the streak against Minnesota from 2004-17.
Purdue earned its first ranking in the AP Top 25 poll since 2007 this week. Coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers are looking to snap an eight-game skid against ranked teams that dates back to the 2019 season.
THREE KEYS FOR THE BADGERSUpdated
1. Mix it up: The Badgers have run the ball on 70% of their first downs this season. That number gets inflated by wins against Eastern Michigan and Illinois where the run game was working and running the ball was a good decision. But UW needs to break that tendency more often as it enters a the stretch run of the season. Some first down passes, even short ones, to get quarterback Graham Mertz into a rhythm earlier in games and avoid his first pass of a series being in third-and-long situations would be helpful.
2. Find a third: A consistent theme on the Badgers offense through the first half of the season is having just two receivers prominently involved. Last week it was Danny Davis and Jake Ferguson; against Illinois it was Kendric Pryor and Chimere Dike. UW has had one game this season in which three or more receivers caught at least three passes — the 34-7 win over Eastern Michigan. UW can and should find a way to get more pass-catchers involved.
3. Turn up the heat: UW’s defensive front will need to help out its secondary by applying pressure, and lots of it, against Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell. He has completed 11 of 23 passes and averages just 4.9 yards per attempt when under pressure this season. That’s easier said than done with how quickly O’Connell gets the ball out of his hands, but asking corners and safeties to hold up for long against David Bell and Purdue’s other receivers is a difficult ask as well. If Jim Leonhard has shown anything during his tenure as UW’s defensive coordinator, he’ll err on the side of aggressiveness and trust his linebackers to create some havoc in the backfield.
THREE KEYS FOR THE BOILERMAKERSUpdated
1. Test the tackling: For the most part, the Badgers have done well tackling this season. Pro Football Focus has UW down for 39 missed tackles (6.5 per game), which ranks second in the Big Ten behind only Michigan (36). Twelve of the Badgers’ missed tackles have been by the starting secondary, so Purdue’s style of short passes leading to catch-and-run opportunities could be made even more effective if UW misses tackles. Purdue’s short crossing routes, which try to get receivers running away from defenders, would be good way to see if the Badgers can continue tackling well.
2. Follow the blitz trend: Quarterback Graham Mertz has been blitzed on 34% of his drop backs in the Badgers’ losses. Mertz is completing 48.9% of his passes when blitzed and 28.9% of his passes when under pressure this season. Purdue doesn’t blitz a lot, typically allowing defensive end George Karlaftis and the rest of the front to get pressure without the aid of an extra rusher. But expect Purdue and other opponents to bring the heat until the Badgers’ offense shows the ability to consistently beat blitzes.
3. Protect the ball: Purdue does a good job of not throwing interceptions for how often it passes. The Boilermakers have a 2.2% interception rate, with six on 267 pass attempts. That needs to continue this week against a Badgers defense that too often has put itself in position for picks and not capitalized. Receiver David Bell’s prowess at winning 50-50 balls helps keep the interceptions down, but Aidan O’Connell and the rest of Purdue’s quarterbacks can’t give away any momentum by turning over the ball.
Series: UW leads 50-29-8
First meeting: UW lost 32-4 in 1892
Last meeting: UW won 45-24 at Camp Randall in 2019
UW's longest winning streak: 14 games (2004 to present)
UW's longest losing streak: Three games (Three different times)
UW didn’t have an identity on offense for the first month-plus of the season. It appears the Badgers have one now, albeit one that’s not going to score a ton of points and will rely on the defense to win games. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi will have to do the bulk of the work offensively, but this week will be when the Badgers don’t turn it over and do just enough to get the job done. The defense gets a game-swinging interception to boot.
UW 20, Purdue 17
The fan's pick
The Badgers have won 14 straight against Purdue. They head to Ross-Ade Stadium for Saturday's football game against the Boilermakers. Will UW make it 15 straight?— Badger Beat (@BadgerBeat) October 19, 2021
As featured on
Junior tailback Chez Mellusi bet on himself when he decided to transfer from Clemson to Wisconsin, and he's been a needed voice in a diminishing running backs room.
Whether you are heading down to Camp Randall or watching from the comfort of your couch, the State Journal has Badgers fans covered with a complete breakdown of everything they need to know as Wisconsin takes on Army on Saturday night in Madison.
The UW football team won for the second week in a row as Graham Mertz and the Badgers escaped with a 20-14 victory over the Army Black Knights in a battle under the Camp Randall lights.