“We’ve been able to matchup very well against them the past couple of years,” he said. “I think the guys I’ve been able to play with the last couple of years are very good players. We’ve had a very good line up front, so it makes my job a lot easier when you’re playing with the guys I’ve been able to play with.”
Few things have gone wrong for Wisconsin when the Boilermakers appear on the schedule, which they do again this Saturday for UW’s annual Homecoming game at Camp Randall.
A win over Purdue (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) would give the Badgers a 10-game winning streak in the series, a streak that dates back to Oct. 16, 2004. That night a 10th-ranked Wisconsin rallied from a 17-7 deficit to beat fifth-ranked Purdue, 20-17, in West Lafayette, Ind., thanks to cornerback Scott Starks’ 40-yard fumble recovery touchdown with 2:36 remaining.
Purdue hasn’t been the same since. Since that night, Wisconsin owns an overall record of 104-41 (.717) and Purdue is 54-82 (.397). During the nine-game winning streak, Wisconsin has won by an average of 23.4 points per game with the last eight decided by 10 points or more.
Not only has Purdue not stopped Stave, who is 3-0 with a 62.3 completion percentage against them, the Boilers have allowed nine Badgers tailbacks to gain over 100 yards in the last seven games.
At the halfway point of their season, Purdue’s only win is over FCS opponent Indiana State and has been fighting inconsistency, losing by 27, 7, 3 and 28 the last four weeks.
“Obviously we’re not where we want to be in terms of the record,” said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, who is 5-25 in three seasons, including 1-17 in the Big Ten. “We take two steps forward and a step back. That’s the thing you don’t want to do … We have six games left. I think it’s important we finish the right way, and we’re capable of doing that.”
The key for Purdue is to figure out how to stop the run. The Boilers are allowing a league worst 215.2 rushing yards per game and are 13th in scoring defense (34.3 ppg).
Wisconsin’s running game isn’t what it once was – ranking 11th in the conference at 164.3 yards per game – and have been bottled up most of the past two games, but UW broke through in the fourth quarter in the 23-21 win over Nebraska.
UW rushed for 89 of its 147 rushing yards in the final 15 minutes, including runs of 31 and 15 yards by Dare Ogunbowale – the longest since the Hawaii game - and the first career touchdown by Alec Ingold, also the first rushing touchdown by UW since the Hawaii win.
“To be able to see that against Nebraska, who is a really good defense and were able to pretty much shut down the run game for the first three quarters, to pop off a couple big ones in the fourth quarter when we really needed to was really good to see,” Stave said.
A Purdue team that will try to spread teams out on defense, have the ability to be explosive when its playmakers are clicking and a scheme that fits its defensive personnel, the Boilermakers put a scare into Michigan State two weekends ago on the road.
That hasn’t stopped the oddsmakers from making Wisconsin a 23.5-point favorite on Saturday, a position the Badgers should get familiar with the rest of the season. Locked in a four-way tie for second in the West Division, Wisconsin will likely be favored in all six remaining games.
And while the schedule dodges all the elite teams from the East Division, Stave and the Badgers aren’t taking any chances.
“Our biggest goal is going week to week,” said Stave. “Every game you treat as a must win. You don’t put in all this time, preparation and everything like that to just go in, ‘Well, if we win this one, it’ll be great.’ You treat every one like we’ve got to win this one.”