October 30, 2009

Despite record, Purdue is no easy task

MADISON - The way the season started for Purdue, it seemed inconsistencies on a game-by-game basis would be too much to overcome, particularly in the turnover department.

Following a 52-31 blowout win over Toledo, the Boilermakers were unable to notch a win in each of their next four weeks.

Granted, one of the losses happened when Purdue went out to Autzen Stadium to play Oregon and nearly beat them. Had they won that game it would be anyone's guess as to where the Boilers would be through eight games.

Instead, the Boilermakers continued its slide by losing a tight one where Purdue was a late Jimmy Claussen touchdown pass away from beating Notre Dame. And it is the same Purdue team that nearly beat Northwestern and Northern Illinois during the same losing streak.

So in reality Purdue is a 3-5 football team, but depending on how Purdue handles its own business, their record is not indicative of how tough an opponent it can be.

"I think as you've seen Purdue evolve through these games, they've really settled in on their strengths," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "Their quarterback is probably playing as well as anybody."

And that is where it starts for the Boilermakers. Over the past two games, Joey Elliott has only thrown two interceptions. While an interception per game is not necessarily a positive trend, it is a far cry from his eight over the first six games.

In general, Purdue was a turnover machine in the first half of the season. They committed 20 turnovers as a whole, 13 of which were eventually turned into points from the opposition.

But over the past two games (wins over Ohio State and Illinois), Purdue has only committed three turnovers, all coming in the upset against the Buckeyes. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Boilermakers are finding a way to win simply because they are taking care of the ball.

"If you get a little confidence behind you and you start winning a little bit, you start believing it," UW senior free safety Chris Maragos said. "Guys take their athletic ability and their team to different levels. I really think that's what Purdue is doing."

For Wisconsin, the past two weeks have been a trying experience. Not only did the Badgers lose their second straight game to Iowa, but it also lost its leading tackler in Mike Taylor to a torn ACL and any realistic shot of winning a Big Ten title.

But after a physical game with the Hawkeyes, the bye week gave an opportunity for the team to rest up and get a head start in preparation for Purdue.

"We were able to watch extra film and even get reps during the bye week," Maragos said. "We were working on Purdue when they were working on Illinois. Does that equate to anything on game day? Obviously we see more plays in practice, but you've got to go play.

"You can sit here and say that we got an extra jump on them. But if they come out and execute, it doesn't matter how much time we have on Sunday."

Saturday's game will be one that is determined on execution. The team that manages the ball better than it has over recent weeks will likely be the victor. For Wisconsin, that means quarterback Scott Tolzien needs to make smart decisions when throwing the ball in order to stay away from the interception bug that has been plaguing him over the past three games.

For Purdue, fumbles and interceptions need to be limited. Obviously both teams sit 2-2 in league play so this game plays a bit of a role in bowl positioning, particularly for the Badgers.

But as always, UW will take it one game at a time.

"From time to time you can gauge into the future," UW sophomore Aaron Henry said. "But in order for us to advance into the future, we have to definitely take this game first. We know if we continue to play Wisconsin football and continue to win, we're going to put ourselves in a good position at the end of the year."

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