Registering its first true road win of the season, Wisconsin is back on the road for a second consecutive week when they travel to West Lafayette to take on Purdue (3-6, 1-4). Wisconsin has won the last eight games against Purdue and have won the last five games on the road against the Boilermakers.
With Wisconsin winning its last three games and playing solid football over the last two weeks, especially on defense, the Badgers returned to the top 25 in both the coaches and AP poll since being dropped after its loss to Northwestern. The defensive success should continue against the Boilermakers offense with the Boilers rank 10th in scoring at 26.7 points a game in the Big Ten.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would play an important role in helping the Badgers win their fourth straight game and their ninth straight against Purdue.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Melvin Gordon RB (1): Gordon gave the Wisconsin coaches and his teammates a scare when he limped off the field against Rutgers late in the second half. Able to avoid a major knee injury, both Gary Andersen and Gordon have insisted he is fine and will be ready to play. Gordon should have a productive game with the Boilermakers giving up 174.3 rushing yards a game, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten. Last year Gordon ran for 147 yards on 16 carries (9.2 average) and three touchdowns in a 41-10 home win over Purdue.
Despite the high rushing total, Purdue is allowing opponents to 4.4 yards a carry. The longest rush Purdue has given up has been 61 yards to Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin in the season opener. Even though Purdue has been strong against the run, they haven’t faced many strong rushing teams with a high caliber tailback for four quarters. If the offensive line does its job in run blocking, Gordon, who has six carries of at least 50 yards this season, could have a chance at busting a run like he has all year long.
2, Derek Landisch MLB (3): Wisconsin’s defense has been so good the last two weeks because of the linebackers creating havoc, and Landisch has been one of the leaders. Landisch had another productive game recording a sack and a tackle for loss against Rutgers, and while his stats suggest he’s not as active as some of his teammates, the senior is a big part in stopping the run, consistently getting into the backfield with a team-leading 11 tackles for loss. Although Purdue has the capability to run the football (averaging 174.6 yards a game), it has been almost impossible to gain any successful runs against Wisconsin. Landisch is helping hold opponents to 102.9 yards rushing, which ranks third in the Big Ten. Purdue’s top two tailbacks – Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt – are averaging 6.1 and 5.6 yards a carry, but Wisconsin has held its opponent to just 2.1 yards a carry the last two weeks. Purdue also ties for seventh in the Big Ten in sacks allowed with 19, meaning Landisch, who also leads the team with five sacks, will have his opportunities to get after Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby.
3, Michael Caputo S (5): Caputo not only leads Wisconsin in tackles with 57 but has also helped keep two strong passing attacks in check the last two weeks. Purdue’s passing game ranks 10th in the Big Ten - averaging 185.7 passing yards a game – and will be without leading receiver Danny Anthrop for the rest of the year because of a knee injury. Anthrop’s absence will force B.J. Knauf to become more of a threat, as he was second to Anthrop with 15 receptions. Wisconsin will also need to be aware of Hunt, who is second on the team with 36 receptions. Caputo has been able to help limit big plays in the passing game and will likely key on Hunt in certain situations.
4, Joel Stave QB (2): Stave clearly has work to do at the quarterback position after taking a step backward in his performance against Rutgers. Obviously the playing conditions were not ideal, but he needs to be able to put together a better performance. Since his three interception game against Northwestern, Stave hasn’t thrown an interception but will need to make smart decisions against a Purdue defense that has registered eight interceptions on the year. Safety Landon Feichter is tied for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions and picked off Stave two years ago. Junior cornerback Frankie Williams is also a threat, ranking second behind Feichter with three interceptions and he has one pick six on the year. Stave needs to start hitting lay ups, as head coach Gary Andersen likes to put it, so he can help take some pressure off of the run game and keep the offense moving.
5, Marcus Trotter MLB (NR): Trotter really put together a complete football game against Rutgers, recording four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and registering his first interception of his career. Fully healed from the groin injury suffered against Northwestern, Trotter should only continue to be productive as he continues to get healthy and play off of the other linebackers and the defensive line. Trotter will just be as important as Landisch in slowing down Hunt and Mostert in the run game. In particular Trotter is going to have to help force Purdue into third-down situations. Purdue is only converting on 37.2 of its third downs, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten.
6, Tyler Marz LT (7): Marz and his offensive line have continued to play well since the loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten opener. Marz has been able to help consistently open up running lanes for the tailbacks and has done a good job of protecting the quarterbacks. Marz will have to be prepared for defensive end Jake Replogle, who leads the team with six tackles for loss, but should be able to consistently win his battle considering his size (321 pounds) far outweighs the Boilers’ starting defensive line, which has an average weight of 282.5 pounds. If Wisconsin can win the battle up front it will lead to giving the Boilers little hope that they can stay in the game against Wisconsin, especially since the Badgers rank second in the Big Ten in time of possession at 34:10.
7, Darius Hillary CB (4): In consecutive week Hillary has been able to hold two of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten in check. Over the last two games Hillary has four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one pass break up. Hillary hasn’t had the football thrown to his side that often by opposing quarterbacks. If the linebackers can continue to generate pressure on Appleby, Hillary could have a chance at possibly picking off an errant pass.
Others to Note
Vince Biegel, OLB: Since the return of Warren Herring and Trotter, Biegel has started to consistently make more plays on defense. Over the last two weeks Biegel has registered seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and one fumble recovery.
Corey Clement, RB: Clement was able to rush for over 100 yards against Rutgers for the third time this season and the sixth time in his career. Named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 131 yards on 14 carries (9.4 average) and two touchdowns, Clement will get his carries if the passing game continues to struggle, and he’ll have to be able to make the most out of them like he did against Rutgers.
Alex Erickson, WR: Like Gordon , Erickson suffered an injury against Rutgers that shouldn’t prevent him from missing game time. Erickson’s absence last Saturday prevented an already struggling passing attack from having much success. Erickson will get his chances in the passing game, and he’ll have to capitalize to try and help take some pressure off of the run game. The Badgers should have better luck moving the football through the air considering Purdue ranks 13th in the Big Ten in pass defense allowing their opponents to pass for 240.2 yards.
Warren Herring, NT: In order for the linebackers to continue to supply pressure, it will start with Herring occupying his blockers. Although Herring may not be completely healthy yet, you can tell he is starting to get there. Even though Herring may not individually have a chance at an interception, he could have the opportunity to assist in helping create one. Appleby has six interceptions on the season, has thrown at least two interceptions over the last two games and has thrown an interception in four of the last five games. If Herring can cause disruption, he should be able to cause Appleby into throwing an interception for a third straight game.