The come-from-behind victory over Nebraska might have been the best medicine for Wisconsin, as the win gives the unit a massive confidence boost after the Iowa debacle and keeps UW in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race. The win against Nebraska wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but registering a road win in a four-quarter game is invaluable down the stretch.
Despite the struggles by the offense against Iowa, the unit bounced back nicely to register its first 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in a game since a 2006 win against Indiana. That kind of performance could serve as a springboard going into the game against Purdue, especially after the Boilermakers allowed 408 yards of total offense in the loss to Minnesota last week.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a win over Purdue (1-5, 0-2).
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Joe Schobert OLB (1): Nebraska’s spread offense kept Schobert quiet Saturday, only registering four tackles, a half tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry. That should change against Purdue on Saturday after David Blough was sacked three times by the Minnesota defense and put under consistent pressure, resulting in three interceptions. Blough is only completing 53.5 percent of his passes. If Schobert can consistently provide pressure to prevent him from getting his feet set before he throws, UW’s back seven should see some errant passes being thrown or some loose balls. Schobert has four forced fumbles this season through six games, and Purdue has lost six of its 11 fumbles on the season.
2, Joel Stave QB (3): It is unusual to see a Wisconsin team attempt 50 passes in a game but Stave forged a rhythm late to lead UW to the win. Against a Purdue’s pass defense giving up 214 yards a game, Stave will need time in the pocket and a balanced attack around him in order to pick apart the defense. Although Stave was able to escape Nebraska without throwing an interception, he came close a couple of times, seeing defenders get their hands on the ball but weren’t able to reel in the turnover. Stave might not be as lucky against Purdue, which has registered five interceptions on the season. The issue with Stave, at times, has been that he doesn’t always look off his intended target, which makes it easy for the defense. If Stave can go through his progressions and not consistently stare down his intended target he should be able to avoid the possibility of throwing an interception.
3, Darius Hillary CB (7): Hillary was able to help keep Tommy Armstrong well below his passing average (129 yards) on Saturday by shutting down one side of the field. Although Hillary only registered one tackle and no pass breakups, he was consistently in on plays to make sure that the receivers didn’t gain separation. That will need to continue as he prepares to line up against DeAngelo Yancey, who leads Purdue in receiving yards (318). Purdue averages 39.8 pass attempts a game, meaning Hillary will need to be ready and alert as he tries to make a play on the football. Although Yancey didn’t register a catch last week against Minnesota, he is averaging 18.7 yards per reception, third in the Big Ten. Hillary will need to be sound in his coverage and make sure that he doesn’t get beat him off the line of scrimmage. How Hillary uses his hands will be important and making sure Yancey can’t come up with any easy catches.
4, Dare Ogunbowale RB (NR): A week after facing the worst pass defense in the league, Wisconsin gets the worst run defense in the conference, as Purdue ranks 110th in the NCAA in rushing defense (215.2 yards). With Ogunbowale coming off a career day against Nebraska (117 yards on 18 carries), the junior should be able to build off that performance after running with confidence in the fourth quarter, rushing for 83 yards on 12 attempts (6.9 yards per carry). With Taiwan Deal unlikely to play, Ogunbowale will need to continue showing patience in his runs and allowing the offensive line to open things up for him to have success. The running game has struggled this year breaking off big runs. With Purdue allowing opponents to average 5.1 yards per rush, Wisconsin will have a chance to wear down Purdue’s rush defense in order to help open up the pass game.
5, Michael Caputo S (3): Caputo was able to put together a solid game with six tackles and shut down Nebraska’s passing game. With Purdue relying heavily on an aerial assault to have success on offense, Caputo will need to continue being that security blanket to eliminate big plays in the passing game. Over the last two weeks the secondary has only allowed 206 passing yards Caputo and the rest of the secondary will need to make sure they are ready to cover every weapon Blough has at his disposal, as Purdue has five receivers with more than 100 yards receiving this season.
6, Tyler Marz LT (2): After a poor performance against Iowa, Marz did a nice job rebounding and opening up holes for Wisconsin’s running backs when it mattered the most in the fourth quarter. With Purdue struggling to stop the run, Marz will need to continue to get the better push and limit defensive end Antoine Miles, who has four of the team’s 12 sacks on the season. Wisconsin gave up one sack to the Huskers and nine on the season, so Marz helping lead the way on the ground will strike the balance open up the offense.
7, Alex Erickson WR (NR): Registering his first 100-yard receiving game this season, and fourth of his career, Erickson received help in the passing game with five different players registered a reception. That will need to continue, as it clearly made life easier for Erickson and was able to open up different opportunities. With Purdue allowing 10 yards a reception, it should allow Erickson plenty of chances of finding ways to pick up a fresh set of downs, as four of his seven receptions last Saturday resulted in first downs. As Wisconsin continues to try and find that consistency to convert on third down, look for Stave to target Erickson to keep drives alive, as the Boilers have allowed opponents to convert a league-worst 41.4 percent.
Others to Note
Vince Biegel OLB: Second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss, Biegel had 1.5 TFLs a week ago and will get plenty of chances to get after Blough in the passing game. Constant pressure in the passing game will be critical from the outside linebacker to win the turnover battle.
Chikwe Obasih DE: Obasih will need to win his battle up front to help Wisconsin’s linebackers make plays in the backfield. The redshirt sophomore ranks ninth on the team in tackles (16) but is first among defensive lineman on the team with 2.5 tackles for loss. Purdue has allowed 34 tackles for loss this season, meaning Obasih has a chance to create plays for himself and his teammates.
Sojourn Shelton CB: Like Hillary, Shelton will have plenty of opportunities to be around the football on Saturday. Shelton has two pass deflections and two pass breakups but is still looking for his first interception. Solid in coverage so far this season, teams have been hesitant to constantly attack Shelton, making it harder for them to get into rhythm.
Rob Wheelwright WR: Wheelwright has started to make his presence felt again by recording a minimum of four receptions over the last two games. Although Wheelwright finished the game against Nebraska with five receptions, a couple of those receptions were body catches and for a second week in a row he had a couple of drops. Wheelwright needs to do a better job of concentrating on catching the ball and generating separation. With Purdue allowing 12.4 yards a reception, Wheelwright could be relied on helping keep offensive drives alive.