What: Purdue @ Wisconsin.
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, ESPN2
When: Saturday, October 31, 11 AM CST.
I love the double bye.
I support the double bye.
I miss the double bye.
For anyone too young or for anyone too heavily engaged in the then-dominant stoner grunge scene to remember it clearly, the 1993 NFL season was the season of the double bye.
For the first and only time, NFL teams (there were only 28 back then) played their 16 games over a period of 18 weeks, ensuring that each team had two bye weeks.
Also ensuring that NFL fans had an extra week to enjoy meaningful games.
But supposedly most teams found the double bye weeks too disruptive and the experiment, like The Golden Girls spin-off, ended after only one year.
But this year, the Wisconsin Badgers are bringing back the double byes, having just come off of one and also having another one over the Thanksgiving break before finishing the regular season at Hawaii the first Saturday in December.
Whatever fans might think of the weeks off, it’s clear that the first bye came at an opportune time for the Badgers, who needed the extra time to regroup after they were dominated for the first time this season two weeks ago against the then—and still—undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes. (I’m still calling that Ohio State loss a result of giving up big plays and not of being dominated.)
On paper, the Badgers should win the reminder of their games, but perhaps no upcoming game is more of a question mark than Saturday’s home game against Purdue.
Here are the Channel 3000 three storylines for Halloween’s Badger/Boilermaker tilt, which is, oddly enough, the team’s first meeting since 2006, which Wisconsin won 24-3.
1. Who are these guys? At the start of this season, many were confused about the Badgers’ true identity, as the emergence of quarterback Scott Tolzien led to a much more balanced offensive attack than most preseason predictions indicated.
But a glance at Purdue’s 2009 wins and losses reveals the makings of a real schizophrenic squad: A win against Ohio State and a heartbreaking 38-36 loss to No. 10 Oregon suggests a very good team, while losses to Northern Illinois and Minnesota (part of an overall five-game losing streak) suggest a very bad team.
It’s fairly simple: Purdue can win when its defense plays well and when its offense limits mistakes. The Boilermakers had their first turnover-free game of the season last week against Illinois and the week before held Ohio State to just 287 yards of total offense while forcing Terrelle Pryor and company into five turnovers.
If the Boilermakers can force the suddenly error-prone Scott Tolzien (five interceptions in his last two games) into turning the ball over, they’ll have a good chance at pulling the upset.
2. Run Johnny Run. How do the Badgers best put Scott Tolzien into a position to regain his early season form? Simply by running the football with John Clay. Not coincidentally, Clay has been held in check during the Badgers’ two-game losing streak, totalling just 134 yards on the ground after besting that total in three of the Badgers’ first five wins.
The good news for Tolzien and Clay (and freshman Montee Ball and Zach Brown, who returns after missing the Iowa game with a concussion) is that Purdue is lousy against the run, surrendering 156 yards a game and a conference-worst 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. If the Badgers can establish the run against Purdue, and all signs indicate that they should be able to, Wisconsin should snap their losing streak.
3. Protect the quarterback, pressure the quarterback. Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott has quietly been having a great season, ranking second in the conference and 15th in the nation in total offense per game (280 yards). The Badgers need to get pressure on him to try to discombobulate the Boilermakers’ proficient passing attack. Elliott has only been sacked twice during Purdue’s two-game winning streak.
Conversely, over the last two weeks, Scott Tolzien has been dumped more often than Willie Parker from NFL fantasy football rosters: Ten sacks in the last two games. When Tolzien is called on to make plays—and hey, even JaMarcus Russell is called on to make plays—the Badgers’ O-line has to do a better job of keeping him upright.
Despite Purdue being a tougher out than most people—even after the Ohio State upset—probably give them credit for, this looks like a good matchup for Wisconsin, particularly at home, and particularly coming off the first of their two bye weeks.
Predicted final: Wisconsin 35, Purdue 20.