Wisconsin Football: How the Badgers Can Bounce Back Against Purdue
The Wisconsin Badgers return to Camp Randall on Saturday to play Purdue after two heartbreaking losses on the road in back-to-back weeks.
On the road against Michigan State, the Spartans completed a Hail Mary as time expired to win the game. A week later, in almost similar fashion, the Ohio State Buckeyes upended the Badgers thanks to a Braxton Miller heave with under 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Badgers have clearly shown they have become one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but to become the team, games on the road must be played for a full sixty minutes.
Wisconsin will be favored this Saturday as they host Purdue, a team that was steamrolled by Michigan one week ago.
Though a Wisconsin loss at home is rare, the Badgers cannot afford to lose another game if they hope to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game. Here is how they will bounce back and notch a big win...
Correct the Communication in the Secondary
On Braxton Miller's 40-yard TD pass last weekend, there was a fatal miscommunication between the sidelines and the secondary that ultimately cost the Badgers a win in Columbus.
The Buckeyes had two receivers on the wide side of the field and one on the short side. Before the snap, Devin Smith went in motion to the short side of the field.
The secondary was supposed to be in quarters as the four defensive backs would have zones across the formation. The two inexperienced defensive backs, Shelton Johnson and Marcus Cromartie, didn't get the call.
The rest was history as Devin Smith went free over the top and behind the safeties for what would be the game-winning touchdown.
The Badger coaching staff blamed themselves.
This type of communication must be properly understood by everyone involved, especially in a game like that. Let this be a lesson to the Badger secondary as you better believe they will not be letting any Purdue receivers get behind them this week.
Step Up, Defensive Line!
The Wisconsin defensive line has been praised for having so much depth. Unfortunately, depth doesn't compensate for everything and they have been heavily criticized this season against the run.
The criticism hasn't stopped as Boom Herron gashed them for 160 yards.
The linebackers did way too much work as Mike Taylor collected 22 tackles, Chris Borland had 13 and Kevin Claxton had 10. That is 45 combined tackles between the linebackers and while it may look good on a stat sheet, it doesn't say much about the defensive line.
The Badger coaching staff must be biting their lips hoping that the defensive line can take some pressure off the linebackers as the Boilermakers have two talented backs in Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers.
Nick Toon Needs to Come out of Hiding
Nick Toon had a dynamite start to the year and sat out against Indiana for precautionary reasons. He preached to the press the week of Michigan State that his foot was fine, but then he went out and was almost nonexistent aside from his big catch near the end of regulation.
Against Ohio State, Toon was nowhere to be found once again as he didn't find the end zone and was held to three catches.
Part of this can be attributed to the extra attention he is getting from the secondary. However, as the Badgers most talented receiver, more is expected out of Toon, especially on the road in big games.
Him and Russell Wilson need to figure out ways for him to adjust his routes and get separation from the defenders because he has been bottled up the last two games.
I suspect Toon will find more throws coming his way this week against a modest, yet vulnerable Purdue secondary that ranks 40th in the country.
James White Needs to Get Back on Track
James White had a beautiful freshman season as he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year. His sophomore season has been very productive, but has slipped statistically since Montee Ball has separated himself as the feature back.
At any point, James White must be ready to be the feature back, and that opportunity came against Michigan State as Montee Ball was injured in the second quarter (though he came back later). At that point, White couldn't find any running room and the Wisconsin running game went dormant and Wisconsin had to take it through the air.
Over the past two games, White has rushed for 58 yards on 16 carries. For any running back in the Wisconsin offense, that is uncharacteristic. For his career, White has been a guy that has averaged six YPC.
White is a vital part of the one-two punch in Wisconsin's backfield and is relied on to break for big gains. He will get his chance on Saturday to restart his engine against a 75th-ranked Purdue rush defense.
Unleash Russell Wilson
At the conclusion of each game, Russell Wilson has looked great statistically. There is no denying that. With a record of 6-2, Wilson is still putting together a tremendous season.
Montee Ball, Nick Toon and James White are all great players. They aren't the best players Wisconsin has to offer. That title belongs to Russell Wilson.
I understand Wisconsin has been a running team for the last two decades. It pains me to say that they need to get away from that this season, but Wisconsin's comebacks have shown me that Wisconsin is almost unstoppable through the air.
In contrast, Ohio State showed Wisconsin is capable of being shut down on the ground. 40 of Montee Ball's 85 yards rushing came on one play. Ohio State had no answer for Wilson.
Ball has proven he can be a very effective player in the passing game. If Wisconsin's balance leaned a bit more towards passing, Ball's ability to change plays still wouldn't be constrained.
We saw how explosive Wisconsin's offense can be in their attempted comebacks against Michigan State and Ohio State. Why not keep the pressure on the defense with your best player having the ball in his hands more times than not?
No More Blocked Punts!
A turning point in Wisconsin's loss to Michigan State was the blocked punt for a TD when an MSU player came off the edge virtually unblocked.
You would have thought the Badger coaching staff would have corrected that mistake by Robert Burge throughout the week.
I am sure they attempted to.
Unfortunately, the Badgers' worst nightmare happened again last Saturday night. Ohio State came off the same side of the punt formation and took advantage of Burge's slow feet to block a punt.
The Badgers coaching staff replaced Burge on the punt team and I would not expect any more blocked kicks.
Expect a clean punting game from the Badgers this Saturday versus Purdue.