Purdue’s positive start to get tested at No. 7 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — It’s one thing for a new coach to talk about winning with his players. When it actually occurs, those victories do wonders for a team’s confidence.
In his first season at Purdue, coach Jeff Brohm is getting players who have been demoralized by years of losing to think positively. At 3-2 (1-1 Big Ten), the early results are encouraging .
A true test of just how far the Boilermakers have come arrives on Saturday with a trip to No. 7 Wisconsin. Purdue has lost 11 straight in the series, last winning in 2003.
“It’s important we try to do the small things, hang in there like always against teams that are this good,” Brohm said. “Just try to get to the second half where have it somewhat close.”
An ideal goal given that the Badgers (5-0, 2-0) have been downright dominant after halftime, when they have outscored opponents 119-21.
They’re hard to stop once they get a lead. A typically-punishing running game spearheaded by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor (153.4 yards per game) can wear down defenses in the second half, just like in the 38-17 win last week over Nebraska.
Wisconsin has weathered slow starts and adjusted at halftimes to take control.
“We still have a lot of room for growth,” coach Paul Chryst said.
And yet the Badgers are already in control of the Big Ten West as the only unbeaten team left in the division. Nebraska and Purdue each have one conference loss, though Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last week essentially gives the Badgers a two-game lead over the Cornhuskers accounting for the head-to-head tiebreaker.
That means Purdue is the last team standing to keep the West competitive, barring an unlikely Wisconsin collapse down the stretch.
“The 5-0 (record) is nice … but there’s really no reason to get ahead,” left tackle Michael Deiter said. “You can really trip yourself if you get caught looking forward.”
Some notes and things to watch ahead of Saturday’s game:
TAYLOR-MADE: Taylor shows no signs of letting up as he approaches the midpoint of his freshman season. He looked stronger in the second half against Nebraska, rushing for a career-best 249 yards. Injuries forced Wisconsin to play another backup at left guard, and the Badgers still dominated the line of scrimmage.
“Really regardless of the score, they don’t get frustrated, they don’t stop believing,” Brohm said. “They know in the end it’s going to wear people down and that’s been their style.”
DEFENSIVE RESURGENCE: While the Boilermakers offense has been inconsistent this season, Purdue’s defense has been rock solid. It has 12 takeaways including eight fumble recoveries — twice as many as it had all of last season. Purdue is allowing 17.5 fewer points per game than 2016, the second-best turnaround in the nation. Now it has to stop a Wisconsin team that is ranked 17th nationally in scoring offense.
IN THE RED ZONE: Using withering pressure from the front seven and good coverage in the secondary, Wisconsin is the best defense in the country in allowing touchdowns on just 5 of 15 drives in the red zone (33 percent). Purdue is 19 of 20 in red-zone conversions, including 14 touchdowns. The Badgers’ success is tied to forcing opponents into third-and-long situations, outside linebacker Leon Jacobs said.
EARLY TESTS: Wisconsin will be the third top-20 team the Boilermakers have played in six games. Purdue opened the season in Indianapolis against No. 16 Louisville and hosted No. 8 Michigan in their Big Ten opener, losing both. After this week’s trip to Madison, the schedule gets much easier. Just don’t mention it to Brohm, who has been asking his players to give it their all on every play, every week. So far, he’s liked the results.
“So it’s just guys that when you watch the video, even when you’re on the field, they are going hard. They are finishing at the ball,” Brohm said. There’s no letup. It’s every single play.”
IN THE AIR: Taylor has drawn most of the headlines on offense, but the Badgers also have plenty of targets in the passing game even with receiver Jazz Peavy ruled out with a right leg injury. Tight end Troy Fumagalli is a big target over the middle for Alex Hornibrook, who leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (167.2). Young receivers Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor are big-play threats. Jonathan Taylor could draw more attention because of his big night at Nebraska, which could lead to play-action possibilities for Hornibrook.