Forget upset alert, can Purdue even keep it close against Wisconsin?

Four-touchdown dogs.

That’s what the Boilermakers are heading into their Senior Day game against Wisconsin on Saturday. A 28-point margin would usually be considered a wide margin, but in this case, it seems a bit generous for Purdue.

Wisconsin is chasing down another B1G West division crown, on the cusp of clinching another berth in the B1G Championship Game. Purdue is just hoping to surpass the three-win mark for the first time since 2012, and trying not to get completely embarrassed along the way.

Some might consider this a trap game for the Badgers. Purdue doesn’t pose much of a threat to Wisconsin’s B1G title hopes and with a game against Minnesota lurking next week, it’s easy to see how the Boilers could be overlooked. With a 0-4 record under interim coach Gerad Parker and nothing to lose on Senior Day, could there be an upset brewing in West Lafayette – much like we saw last week when Iowa downed Michigan?

No, probably not.

Oct 8, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Purdue Boilermakers running back Brian Lankford-Johnson (37) is pursued by Illinois Fighting Illini linebacker Tre Watson (33) during the 2nd quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

This is a mismatch in every sense of the word. It has Michigan-Rutgers 2.0 written all over it. The 70-point mark probably won’t be eclipsed in this contest, but Wisconsin certainly has the ability to dominate the game in all facets.

Here are the two biggest questions for Purdue heading into Saturday: how will they score? How will they keep Wisconsin from scoring?

It’s probably pretty important for the Boilermakers to have answers to those questions, right? But they don’t have them.

Purdue’s biggest struggles are Wisconsin’s greatest strengths. The Boilermakers rank last in the B1G in rushing, averaging a paltry 104 yards per game. Five times this season they’ve been held under 50 yards on the ground. In conference games this year, the black and gold have eclipsed the 100-yard mark just twice, against Illinois (231) and Northwestern (130).

Wisconsin’s defense – by the way – is ranked fifth nationally against the run, allowing just 101 yards per contest.

Luckily, a majority of Purdue’s offense comes through the air. So, there’s some hope that David Blough can move the ball downfield. But that’s still going to prove to be a chore. Receivers are going to have a tough time getting open against D’Cota Dixon, Sojourn Shelton, Derrick Tindal and Leo Musso. Thanks mostly to those four, teams are completing just 52 percent of their passes and the Badgers have recorded 14 interceptions.

Blough has thrown more picks than any other quarterback in the B1G.

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And how about the other side of the ball?

Yep, Purdue’s going to have a lot of trouble defending Wisconsin, too.

Defensively, the Boilermakers are allowing 248.8 yards per game on the ground, a stat that ranks 13th in the conference and 122nd in the nation. They’ve allowed 29 rushing TDs this season, the second-worst total in college football. Five players have posted season-high totals on the ground against Purdue this year.

Those insufficiencies helped Iowa and Penn State post their highest scoring totals of the season (49 and 62, respectively), both coming inside the walls of Ross-Ade Stadium

And guess what? The Badgers are really, really good at running the ball.

Corey Clement sits third in the B1G in yards per game (103.1) and TDs (10) this year and has surpassed the 100-yard mark in four of his last five outings. He’s on the cusp of the first 1,000-yard season of his career, needing just 72 yards to reach that mark.

He’ll surely get there on Saturday.

Nov 12, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement (6) rushes with the football as Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Stanley Green (17) reaches out during the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

But Clement isn’t the only threat Wisconsin has in the backfield. Senior Dare Ogunbowale and freshman Bradrick Shaw have been serviceable reserves this season.

Ogunbowale rushed for 120 yards against Nebraska and is fresh off of a 103-yard day against Illinois. Shaw, who’s been limited most of the season but, has 307 yards and three TDs in his first year in Madison.

All together, the Badgers are averaging just under 200 yards per game on the ground. That may be all it takes on Saturday. And we haven’t even mentioned Jazz Peavy, Robert Wheelwright or the other weapons Wisconsin has in the passing game.

So, keeping all that in mind, how does Purdue keep it close, if it even can? How do the seniors safe face and avoid getting blown off their home field?

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Protecting the football will be a good start. The Boilermakers have turned the ball over 27 times this season, more than any other team in the conference. That may be tough to accomplish against one of the country’s best defenses, but it’s an absolute must.

The coaching staff is also going to have to find a cure for the second half woes. Going into halftime in the last four games, Purdue has had leads against Nebraska and Minnesota, was tied with Penn State and trailed Northwestern 14-10. In the second halves of those contests, Purdue has been outscored 114-17.

After that, it’s really up for Parker and his staff to get creative. If the offense attempts to run the same schemes without throwing in new wrinkles, it will certainly suffer the same fate it did against Penn State and Northwestern.

Maybe walking around the grounds of West Lafayette and scavenging for every rabbit’s foot, horseshoe and four-leaf clover Parker and his staff can find wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Wisconsin has won 10 straight games over Purdue. The last time the Boilermakers posted a win was 2003.

The Badgers are going to have no trouble making it number 11 on Saturday, but it should qualify as a victory for the Boilermakers if they happen to cover that four-touchdown spread.

REFERENCES

Photo Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports;

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