In the marquee matchup of the week in the Big Ten, No. 10 Wisconsin (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) hits the road for the second straight week, this time to take on the fifth-ranked Purdue (5-0, 2-0) Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
"This week, we're going to play a Wisconsin team that perhaps has been coach [Barry] Alvarez's best team ever up there," Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said. "I do know one thing: I can't imagine them having had a better defense than the one they're putting on the field this week. This (will) be the ultimate test for our football team."
The same can be said from the UW side, as this Purdue squad and specifically its offense is unquestionably the ultimate test for the Badgers to date as well.
"Well, we're only six games into the season and we're playing the No. 5 ranked team in the country that's undefeated," Badger head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I would say that this is the best team we've played thus far, maybe on both sides of the ball. And you got the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy [quarterback Kyle Orton] running their offense, and a very effective offense."
As Tiller and Alvarez mentioned, UW's ‘D' and Purdue's prolific, high-octane offense deserve much of the hype surrounding the game, however not to be overlooked is the battle between the Boilermakers' defense and the Badgers' offense.
Purdue's defense thus far has been overshadowed by its offense, ranked No. 3 in the country. But in five games the Boilermakers have tallied 17 sacks (second most in the Big Ten), blocked a conference-high four kicks and forced four fumbles. In addition, the team is holding opponents to 13.2 points per game and limiting foes to 76 rushing yards per contest.
"They run a lot of safety blitzes, first and second down run blitzes, and we have to be able to handle it," UW offensive coordinator Brian White said.
"They play pretty solid ‘D'," Badger junior wide receiver Brandon Williams added. "They run to the ball fast and they're pretty quick around the field, but it's not necessarily any weaknesses or strengths we're concerned about with their defense, but just what we have to do. We are trying to come out and execute the game plan that the coaches have for us."
That game plan looks to be the same as throughout the season: control time of possession with a heavy dose of the running game. Since returning from an eye injury two weeks ago, senior tailback Anthony Davis has run for 381 yards and scored four touchdowns. For the season he is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Senior fullback Matt Bernstein has helped the Badgers give Davis a breather and still maintain a solid ground attack.
"I think against Wisconsin, because of their desire to run the football, you need to take the approach that you're not going to shut them down," Tiller said. "You want to try and limit a great talent, like Anthony Davis, to 150 yards. I think if he has a career day against you, then you're in trouble. I don't think we go into the ballgame saying, ‘This is what we must do,' because we've learned in the past that sometimes those issues become irrelevant as the game moves on."
The game could be won or lost at the line of scrimmage. Made up of three seniors, one junior and a sophomore, the Badgers front five on ‘O' is far more experienced than the Purdue defensive line made up of two juniors and two sophomores, including three first-year starters. All told the Boilermakers' defense has only three players who have started more than 10 games in their careers. One of them, cornerback Antwaun Rogers, is not expected to play Saturday due to an injury.
"We've all played in the game for a long time and we were pretty much the same group last year," senior right tackle Morgan Davis said. "It's just experience and being a cohesive group that helps us out a lot. Every game we play together, [our confidence] builds even more. Knowing each other a little bit more and knowing our style a little bit more, it helps us get better. If we can get better each week, the sky is the limit."
Purdue sent seven defensive players to the NFL last spring from a unit that was ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten last season.
"That's probably the biggest surprise with their team," Alvarez said. "And I think anybody would probably tell you that. With as many guys as they lost to the draft a year ago, and as good as their defense was, that this outfit has come in and put up pretty impressive numbers."
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