WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. (AP) - Wisconsin is well aware of what happened last year when Ohio State traveled to Purdue for what was supposed to be an easy win.
Purdue 26, No. 7 Ohio State 18.
“They had that momentum on their side, the crowd there, the emotions were riding high, and we can’t let that happen to us,” Wisconsin running back John Clay said.
Wisconsin heads into Saturday’s game against the Boilermakers with the same No. 7 ranking Ohio State took to Purdue last year.
“Every year there seems to be that game where someone gets nipped from behind,” Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “We need to approach this game like any other game. The second you take your foot off the gas pedal and start relaxing, that’s when you start to get some adversity.”
This season, the Badgers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) beat Ohio State and Iowa before its bye week to position themselves well for a shot at possible Big Ten and BCS titles.
“If we don’t take of our business this week, it’s all for naught,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said.
Wisconsin would love a repeat of last year’s game. The Badgers rushed for 266 yards and held the Boilermakers to 141 total yards in a 37-0 win.
“What I remember is just being able to dominate in all three phases of the game, and I think we’ve got to keep that,” Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks said. “Last year, we had a bunch of rushing yards, we passed the ball well, everything was going well for us. It was just an overall good game and a good dominating win.”
The Boilermakers haven’t beaten Wisconsin since 2003 and haven’t won a home game against the Badgers since 1997.
Purdue (4-4, 2-2) is coming off losses at Ohio State and Illinois by a combined 93-10, and may start freshman quarterback Sean Robinson because Rob Henry is recovering from a cut finger. Henry began fall practice as the No. 3 quarterback, but has started the past four games since Robert Marve was lost for the season and Caleb TerBush was declared academically ineligible.
“With all the injuries we’ve had, it would be easy to feel sorry for yourself,” Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan said. “We haven’t let our teammates do that. We’ve tried to keep the team morale up and let everybody know that it’s still a long season and we’ve still got a lot to play for.”
The Boilermakers will have to handle one of the nation’s best offenses to turn their season around. The Badgers rank 13th nationally in rushing, 17th in passing efficiency and 18th in scoring offense.
Clay is 12th nationally with 111 yards rushing per game. Freshman James White averages 6.6 yards per carry, giving him 570 yards on the ground behind a huge line.
“They’re really good up front on the offensive line, exceptional size,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “Their execution part of it is just really good. They’re great at the running back position. So you have to do a lot of things right.”
Tolzien balances the offense. The senior has passed for 1,558 yards and eight touchdowns.
Wisconsin is concerned about keeping Kerrigan out of its backfield. He leads the conference with 7 1/2 sacks and 18 1/2 tackles for loss.
Kerrigan said the Boilermakers will need to match Wisconsin’s “physicality.” He said Purdue’s defense is capable of playing much better than it has the past few weeks.
“I think we were just a little less gap sound, a little less assignment sound,” he said. “I think that was ultimately our bugaboo the last few games.”
Kerrigan said the Boilermakers need to play well early. Ohio State led 42-0 at halftime, and Illinois led 17-0.
“It would definitely be huge to come out strong on defense, with a good offense like Wisconsin’s got, and with their good running game and then their good play-action passing game,” Kerrigan said. “It’ll be huge to try to set the tempo from the start.”
Wisconsin is one of four teams with one loss in conference play. The Badgers have a favorable schedule _ they don’t play any of the other one-loss teams the rest of the season.
That doesn’t matter to Tolzien in the short term.
“I think the whole key is we’ve got to control what we can control,” he said. “The key to that is just focusing on Purdue. You can’t get ahead of yourself and focus on anything else.”