Kickoff: Purdue at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m., Saturday
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Put it on him, Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell. He knows Wisconsin's smash-mouth approach is coming. The college football world knows it. It's what the No. 24 Badgers (2-1) do.
On Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium, they'll try to do it to the Boilers (1-2).
Russell wants to take a stand. He's a 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior with NFL upside. He expects to play like it.
This would be the perfect game to start.
“I haven't played up to the standard I would like,” he says. “I haven't played terrible, but I don't believe I was enough of a game changer. I want to take that role. I want to be an impact player. I want to change the game. I want offenses to worry about me.”
After three games, Russell has 12 tackles, including a team-leading four for loss. He wants more. Purdue has a tradition of defensive ends who have given more, from Rosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Akin Ayodele and Shaun Phillips to Ray Edwards, Anthony Spencer (the former Bishop Luers standout) and most recently, Ryan Kerrigan, now thriving with the NFL's Washington Redskins.
“I need to put more trust in my abilities,” Russell says. “Sometimes things happen in a game that can shake you up. Every time you have to think the team needs you to make big plays.
“It's about doing your assignment. Don't want to go outside the scheme, but have that intensity that I'm making this play.”
Wisconsin will provide plenty of play-making opportunities. It will try to punish the Boilers. It will try to establish its will on them, as it has so forcibly in the recent past. The Badgers have rushed for 831 yards in their last two games against Purdue. They have won the last four meetings by an average of 31.8 points while averaging 307 rushing yards a game. In the last two games at Camp Randall, they've outscored Purdue 99-17.
That can't happen again, Russell says: "It all starts with their running game, and up front we personally have to take pride in handling that. They've been able to get a ridiculous amount of rushing yards (against us). As a defensive lineman, I don't want that to happen. I want to be one of the main reasons that doesn't happen. So just stopping the run, fortifying the front, taking care of our gaps and just being able to get knock-back and penetration throughout the front is a big key to this game."
It sounds simple. It is not.
Wisconsin averages 337 rushing yards a game, which ranks fifth nationally. It averages 7.96 yards a carry, which ranks second nationally to Oregon, which averages just over 8 yards.
Russell and the rest of the defensive line are key to slowing that down.
“We have to get a little more productivity out of our defensive line,” coach Darrell Hazell says. “We've got to beat more one-on-one blocks with those guys up front.”
Wisconsin dominates with its large, physical offensive line. Tailbacks Melvin Gordon and James White take full advantage. Gordon has rushed for a Big Ten-leading 477 yards and four touchdowns. He averages 12.9 yards a carry. White has rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He averages 6.6 yard a carry.
And to show off its running back depth, Corey Clement has rushed for 251 yards and averaged 8.1 yards a carry.
“They get great double teams,” Hazell says. “They get those big bodies on people, they cover them up and they get good movement. If you get movement off the line, you have a chance to make yards.
“They're so consistent with it. They're patient with it.”
In an ideal world, you stop the Badgers with your base defense. In the real world, you stack eight or nine guys near the line of scrimmage and hope your defensive backs can handle the one-on-one pressure.
"You've got to get a lot of men near the football, which makes you vulnerable in other spots, but you have to make them as one-dimensional as you can," Hazell says. "You have to be able to stop the power (play). They run it out of a lot of different formations. They have a big offensive line. They're all about 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, 325 pounds. So that presents a little bit of an issue. But you need to get eight, nine hats around the football to eliminate some of those running gaps."
Yes, Wisconsin could try play-action trickery with quarterback Joel Stave, who completes 63.2 percent of his passes and who has a couple of big-play receivers to go to if defenses get to run-obsessed. The Boilers must be ready for that, as well.
It would help if the offense, which showed major improvement against Notre Dame last week, could control the ball, put up points and pressure the Wisconsin defense. Getting more production from a running game that has produced a total of just 237 yards is crucial.
It also would help if Wisconsin was still dwelling about its last-play loss at Arizona State, when a bizarre final sequence prevented it from attempting a game-winning field goal.
"To me, it's the game that never ended,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen says. “I don't care what anybody says about that. That's how I feel.
"It's a tough one for me, because at the end of the day, I've heard all of the human element involved and it's this and that, but it's really not in this case. It's more than that. It's a bigger deal than that."
Purdue's big deal comes down to this -- stop being fodder for the Badgers.
“It's about us believing in ourselves and having the confidence in the game plan,” Hazell says, “and then our execution within the game plan to give ourselves a chance to win, period.”