Know Your Foe: Purdue

Looking to wash the bitter taste out of its mouth, No.24 Wisconsin begins Big Ten conference play a week early by hosting Purdue Saturday. Badger Nation gets the inside scoop on this week's opponent from Boiler Sports Report publisher Chris Emma.

1, Purdue's first two games of the year were rather lackluster performances, but the Boilermakers appeared to turn a corner against Notre Dame despite the loss. What was different Saturday?

Emma: It was one of those games where the energy was higher than ever, causing the Boilermakers' confidence to rise. Notre Dame was the better team—it proved so in the end—but Purdue played with no fear, in front of a sold-out home crowd and on national television. Everything seemed to be clicking for the Boilers. How that effort transitions to Madison remains to be seen.

2, Purdue's coaching staff and players have talked about turning the program from a middle-the-road conference team to a national power. That having said, how big a missed opportunity was the Notre Dame game and how did the players handle it?

Emma: In the grand scheme of things, it won't be seen as anything big. This rebuild will take three years at the minimum before the Boilermakers are competing toward the top of the Big Ten. For this season, it would have been a big boost to beat a top-tier team like Notre Dame, but it won't mean much down the road.

3, Purdue ranks last in the conference in a lot of offensive categories, including scoring, total offense and rushing. What's been the big problem thus far?

Emma: Frankly, they just haven't adjusted well to John Shoop's complex pro-style system, which involves many pre-snap motions and reads. It's a very detailed plan that looks to take advantage of mismatches. For whatever reason, the Boilermakers just haven't handled it well. The offense has improved since week one, that after the coaches made the playbook a bit more simple. But it's still a major work in progress.

4, What issues did Cincinnati and Notre Dame expose in the first three weeks of the season and how realistic is it that the coaching staff can fix them?

Emma: This can be viewed from just the Cincinnati game, where it was no contest throughout the second half. The Bearcats exploited Purdue's many weaknesses, but above all, showed the Boilermakers haven't mastered their new offense and defense. Since then, Purdue has made plenty of progress, but there's still a long way to go.

5, The Boilermakers are No.1 in the Big Ten in kickoff returns. What makes their unit so dangerous and how have they exploited teams?

Emma: Darrell Hazell takes great pride in the work of his special teams, and they make it a major emphasis in practice. The Boilermakers don't put some scrubs back to return, as their starting running back and top receiver are the two return men. They've executed special teams in practice and it has worked well in game action.

6, Describe Darrell Hazell's coaching staff? How much of him reminds you of the way his mentor, Jim Tressel, went about things?

Emma: The new Purdue staff has a diverse mix of backgrounds, from college head-coaching experience to NFL backgrounds; assistants new to the Big Ten and some who have bounced through several jobs; some unique personalities and straightforward, no-nonsense guys like Hazell. It's a very interesting group that has worked well as one.

7, Where areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Purdue trouble? Where do you think the Boilermakers have the edge over the Badgers?

Emma: The matchup of Wisconsin's linebackers (hello, Chris Borland) against Purdue's running backs will go in the Badgers' favor. The Boilermakers have yet to establish a solid ground attack, and I don't expect that to change against a talented Wisconsin defense. I do see Purdue having another big day with its special teams, making a difference in field possession once again. It's all about how the offense and defense can take advantage.

8, Hazell obviously has walked into a rebuilding project. What's his plan for turning Purdue around and sustaining success? Is it possible to do?

Emma: There's nothing flashy about Darrell Hazell's plan to rebuild Purdue. He believes in his schemes and staff. Now, he has to win the recruiting battles—making Indiana and its neighboring states a top priority—and simply increase the talent level in the program. There are no gimmicks or shenanigans; Hazell believes in his ways.

9, What is the one thing Purdue needs to do well in order to win Saturday?

Emma: Simply put, Purdue must finish drives in the end zone. Often times, the offense has seen drives stall outside of field goal range, or it fails to cash in from inside the red zone. The Boilermakers need to be perfect to beat a talented Wisconsin team.

10, What's your unbiased prediction for the game?

Emma: The Badgers will be ticked off after being robbed in the desert. The Boilermakers just don't have what it takes to pull off an upset. I see Wisconsin cruising to a 41-14 victory.

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