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October 8, 2012

First Look: Wisconsin





If Purdue wants to represent the Leaders Division of the Big Ten in the league's championship game in Indianapolis in December, a win at noon Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium over Wisconsin would certainly help its case.

GoldandBlack.com will have much more on the Badgers throughout the week. In the meantime, here's a quick first look.

Wisconsin, at least by its recent standards, has struggled, off to a 4-2 start, but one that saw it labor in its opener against FCS Northern Iowa; lose 10-7 at Oregon State; then barely get past Utah State at home.

Since that shaky three-game showing, its middling offense has picked up, scoring 27 or more points in three straight games, including 31 Saturday in a 31-14 win over struggling Illinois.

Wisconsin's offensive struggles have been significant.

Its scoring output from earlier in the season has reversed itself some but the numbers remain ugly. Wisconsin is converting only 28 percent on third down - that's a little more than half Purdue's success rate, even after the Boilermakers went 1-of-11 against Michigan - and the Badgers are dead last in a conference struggling to score in total offense.

Even with one of the most productive running backs in Big Ten history in Montee Ball and another stud in reserve, James White, the Badgers are last in the league in rushing.

After going his entire career to this point without losing a fumble, Ball has done so twice the past few games.

Still, in a "down" year for Ball, he's already run for nearly 570 yards and eight touchdowns.

The offensive line - Wisconsin is typically the gold standard for Big Ten offensive line play - has been such an issue that Coach Bret Bielema fired his first-year O-line coach after just two games.

In the off-season, Bielema lost six coaches off his staff, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, now the head coach at Pitt.

Quarterback play has also been uneven.

Wisconsin brought in transfer Danny O'Brien from Maryland to start from Day 1 the way Russell Wilson did in 2011. But he was replaced in Week 3 by Joel Stave, with whom the offense has shown some progress.

The Badgers seem to be pretty good at some "little things." They're the least penalized team in the Big Ten and leads the league in kickoff coverage and punting.




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