UW v. Purdue, Five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to Saturday's football game between the Badgers and Boilermakers

Which Boiler behind center? Brandon Kirsch has started every game this season for Purdue, but redshirt freshman Curtis Painter has been given a chance to unseat him this week. Kirsch told reporters earlier this week he did not expect to be the starter for the Badger game. If that is indeed the case, Painter's first career start will come in front of more than 80,000 fans at raucous Camp Randall Stadium. Ideal? Hardly. Then again, Purdue desperately needs something to change. Perhaps a new quarterback will work. This situation could also light a fire under Kirsch.

Season on the brink: The Badgers are in the thick of the Big Ten championship race. Purdue has to win four of its last five games just to make a postseason bowl game. Before the season, the consensus of preseason prognostications had this one reversed. Wisconsin was supposed to be fighting for its bowl life, while the Boilers were one of four favorites for the conference crown. Now, Purdue is trying to save the sinking ship that is its 2005 season.

The Boilermakers are a very talented team that could wake up any week, but a combination of injuries and sub-par performances has led to a nearly inconceivable implosion: from a feared offense to an offense prone to self-inflicted pain; from one of the conference's best defenses to one of the nation's worst.

It is not like the Badgers enter this game fat-and-happy, however. UW's offense is purring, but seems very much grounded in the day-to-day tasks necessary to play at an efficient level. And Wisconsin's defense is battered and yearning for redemption. Thought Purdue has struggled with turnovers, the Boilers are third in the league in total offense in conference-only games. It is the latest challenge for a Badger team that has allowed nearly 1,200 yards the past two weeks.

Rested Wisconsin? The Badgers took Monday off and practiced in shoulder pads and helmets Tuesday and Wednesday. By various accounts, this is a rare occurrence for an Alvarez-coached Wisconsin team. The reason for the break in routine is plain to see. This team, which entered the season inexperienced at many positions, has been hit hard by injuries and does not have a bye week until after the Big Ten season is complete. Will the less taxing practice schedule give the Badgers a jump come kickoff?

Pick your poison: Purdue has been OK against the run and dreadful against the pass. Do the Boilers sell out to stop UW tailback Brian Calhoun, or do they keep seven in the box so as not to hamper a depleted secondary? Wisconsin has done a very good job this season, particularly in the past three weeks, of making defenses pay for focusing on Calhoun. Quarterback John Stocco and receivers Jonathan Orr and Brandon Williams are playing at a high level and tight end Owen Daniels will be closer to full strength this week. It is hard to remember at this point in the season, with Purdue's defense ranked among the worst in the nation, but a lot of the same personnel was in place last year when the Boilers were No. 15 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 4 in the Big Ten in total defense.

For whatever reason, this is not the same team. If Purdue does not sort through its issues in a hurry, the Badgers will be the fifth consecutive team to accumulate more than 500 yards against the Boilers.

Patchwork quilt: That is the Badgers' defensive line. Purdue will wing the ball around the field in the passing game and attempt to slam it at you in the running game. All the while UW's defensive line will be challenged to hold up under the strain of injury-depleted depth and a second consecutive week against a chop-block-happy offensive line. UW received good news this week in that Justin Ostrowski and Joe Monty should be able to play, though they will be limited. Expect end Matt Shaughnessy and tackle Nick Hayden to play nearly every snap.

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