Purdue at Wisconsin

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Wisconsin leads Purdue 47-29-8. The Badgers have won 11 straight meetings.
RANKINGS: Wisconsin No. 7

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Boilermakers

–LB Ja’Whaun Bentley was dominant in the second half last week, and he’ll have to play at least that well or better to help wear down the Wisconsin running game. But he’ll also have to watch how he hits — the reason he was limited to 30 minutes against the Gophers was a targeting penalty he committed the previous week against Michigan.

–RB D.J. Knox did his part in the quest for backfield snaps by contributing in multiple ways last week. Arguably the biggest playmaker in the crowded rotation, he had seven rushes for 56 yards, two catches for 38 yards, and a 44-yard kickoff return that began the drive that would provide the go-ahead touchdown for Purdue.

–TE Cole Herdman doesn’t get a ton of touches, but he’s one of the players who always seems to find the ball in key spots. He has 10 catches through the season’s first five games, with each one leading to a first down.

Badgers

–RB Jonathan Taylor had a career game against Nebraska. He rushed for 249 yards to raise his season total to 767 yards and nine touchdowns. Taylor has yet to catch a pass this season but is averaging a whopping 7.9 yards per carry.

–WR Quintez Cephus leads a balanced group of receivers with 18 receptions for 301 yards and four touchdowns — all team highs. He’s averaging 60.2 receiving yards per game, second to tight end Troy Fumagalli (66.8).

–S D’Cota Dixon tops the defense with 36 tackles in five games. As a team, the Badgers have intercepted eight passes. Dixon has one interception and forced a fumble.

–LB T.J. Edwards is starting to play at a high level after dealing with injuries in the offseason. He has 29 tackles, second on the team to Dixon.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Purdue has made improvement under new coach Jeff Brohm, a development that hasn’t been lost on Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst.

His No. 7 Badgers (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) host the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Purdue has allowed an average of 20.8 points through five games, ranking 36th nationally. The Boilermakers gave up 38.3 points per game in 2016, rated 117th in scoring defense.

Chryst said it is a well-designed defense for the Boilermakers, who have allowed just 17 second-half points in wins against Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota.

“I think you’ve got some really good players, and we’ve played against a number of them,” Chryst said. “I have a ton of respect for them as players. I think they’re playing confident and that allows them to be fast. They’re a physical front and I think they’re playing at a high level.

“Quite honestly, I think we’ll be challenged differently than any point this season because of their defense.”

Senior outside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was one of the difference-makers with a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown with 11 seconds to go that sealed last week’s 31-17 win against the Gophers. Purdue overcame four first-half turnovers and scored 25 second-half points.

The Boilermakers play an attacking style of defense and co-defensive coordinator Nick Holt has made an effort to change up personnel, which has yielded a good mix on the field and depth when injuries occur.

And injuries could be a factor for Purdue on Saturday.

Brohm expects to get an update later in the week on senior linebacker T.J. McCollum, who suffered knee and ankle injuries on the final play against Minnesota. Junior defensive end Keiwan Jones, who was helped off the field Saturday, is expected to miss this week.

Although senior defensive end Austin Larkin barely played against the Gophers, Brohm anticipates he’ll play in Madison, if his ankle stays healthy.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are ranked ninth in the country in scoring defense at 14.3 points per game.

Wisconsin’s game at Nebraska last week wasn’t a stellar performance. The team allowed a season-high 313 first-half yards, but then held the Cornhuskers to 68 yards in the second half.

Brohm said one thing that stands out with Wisconsin’s defense is the athleticism and ability to exhaust an opponent’s offense.

“They are relentless on defense,” Brohm said. “Their guys go so hard and they finish and they tackle and they hit and they wear people down.

“And especially if you’re getting into a situation where you don’t have the lead and you’ve got to do things like be a little pass-happy and not have balance, they are going to be able to tee off.”

Purdue will be challenged to contain Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who had a career-high 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries against Nebraska. Taylor, ranked fourth nationally with 153.4 yards per game, earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.

But the Badgers are dealing with injuries on their offensive line. Sophomore left guard Jon Dietzen (right leg) and junior left guard Micah Kapoi (right arm) were listed as questionable on Wisconsin’s injury report that was released Monday. Sophomore left tackle Jason Erdmann could get more playing time in place of Dietzen.

In addition, junior left tackle Michael Deiter is grappling with an ongoing ankle problem.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook has shown tremendous growth in his sophomore season. Backed by that powerful running game, Hornibrook has been as efficient as needed, completing 69 of 107 passes for 1,011 yards, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

For Purdue, expect quarterbacks David Blough and Elijah Sindelar to both see action again this week. Sindelar came off the bench to rally the Boilermakers last week, completing 19 of 26 passes for a career-best 248 yards.

Wisconsin is in great shape in the Big Ten West race and is in the hunt for the College Football Playoff, but Chryst relies on experienced players to relay the right message about not looking too far ahead.

“I think that’s why you spend a lot of time talking about it,” Chryst said. “Yet in the end, every person has to make a choice of how to approach it. You try to do all that you can. At some point, though, they have to choose. That’s where I think your veteran leadership has to help.”