Wisconsin taking 4-2 record to Purdue
MADISON Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is downplaying the significance of Saturday’s game at Purdue even though the game pits opponents expected to vie for the Big Ten Leaders Division title.
“All the games matter, it doesn’t matter if they’re in the Leaders or the Legends — your overall record is of the utmost importance,” Bielema said Monday. “I get (the interest). Everybody knows it. But really, it’s a one-game approach. As coaches, as football players, you can’t take any other perspective other than that.”
The Badgers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) are seeking their first road victory of the season while the Boilermakers (3-2, 0-1) look for their first league win. Since Leaders teams Penn State and Ohio State were ruled ineligible for postseason competition and titles due to NCAA infractions, one of four other teams will represent the division in the league championship in Indianapolis. Wisconsin and Purdue are considered front runners ahead of Illinois and Indiana.
Bielema said he’s impressed with Purdue’s defense, particularly a front four that includes senior defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short, who has started all 42 games in his Purdue career, has blocked two field goals and one extra point this season.
“Defensively, Purdue might have the best front four in our league right now,” Bielema said. “Short has got the ability to jump and explode and make big plays.”
The Badgers are fresh off one of their most complete performances of the season, a 31-14 home win against Illinois. The offense had a season-high 427 yards and the defense allowed a season-low 178 passing yards.
The ability to finish was important, said cornerback Devin Smith, who intercepted Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase in the second quarter for the Badgers’ first pick of the year.
“It was a great performance for the defense because of the fact we finished the game, a full four quarters,” Smith said. “And not just the defense, the whole team as well. We took a step forward.”
The Badgers gained strength on defense with the return of a handful of veteran players from injuries. Defensive ends Patrick Muldoon (broken thumb) and Brendan Kelly (hamstring) started against the Illini after missing three games. Strong safety Shelton Johnson, who broke his right arm against Oregon State on Sept. 8, also returned from a three-game absence. He played a few series against the Illini and will start at Purdue on Saturday.
Other players expected to practice this week are redshirt sophomore cornerback Peniel Jean (broken foot) and right guard Kyle Costigan (knee).
The linebacker corps has logged consistent performances game after game during 2012, and Bielema was pleased to see Mike Taylor (12 tackles), Chris Borland (10) and Ethan Armstrong (10) collected double-digit tackles against Illinois. Taylor, a senior, leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally with 67 tackles.
“I coached linebackers my entire coaching career, have been a head coach and a (defensive) coordinator, and I don’t know of any other time . when all three linebackers had charted over ten tackles each,” Bielema said. “Hats off to those three guys and what they did.”