72F Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
Wisconsin looked like a lock for a BCS bowl game just two weeks ago, but a pair of last-second road losses have dramatically changed its fate.
Given the 19th-ranked Badgers' recent success against Purdue, they have to like their chances of getting back on track Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
After jumping out to a 6-0 start while averaging 50.2 points, Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) seemed poised to run away with a second consecutive conference title.
While losing 37-31 to Michigan State on a Hail Mary pass as time expired Oct. 22 likely squashed the program's national championship aspirations, last weekend's defeat proved to be nearly as devastating.
Russell Wilson threw two of his three TD passes in the fourth quarter, rallying the Badgers from a 26-14 deficit to a three-point lead with 1:18 remaining. Wisconsin, though, couldn't slow down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who evaded defenders before throwing a 40-yard TD pass with 20 seconds to go to hand the Badgers a 33-29 loss.
"It's pretty tough, especially two in a row," said Wilson, who leads the Big Ten with 2,033 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and has the nation's best quarterback rating. "The Hail Mary from the week before, and then just throwing it up and finding a guy. That's kind of tough."
Wisconsin hasn't lost three straight since a four-game skid Sept. 27- Oct. 18, 2008.
"As long as I've been doing this gig, I've never experienced this," linebackers coach Dave Huxtable told the school's official website. "I have no question that these guys and this football team will bounce back."
The Badgers, ranked 13th in the country with 231.8 rushing yards per game, will likely need to get their ground game going if they hope to regroup. They compiled a season-low 89 rushing yards against the Buckeyes - their worst total in more than two years.
"We have to make sure we stop the bleeding," said Montee Ball, tied for the FBS lead with 18 rushing TDs. "We'll approach it the same. We'll attack the film room and correct mistakes."
While Wisconsin is still holding out hope for a trip to the Big Ten championship game - it's one of three 2-2 teams trailing 5-0 Penn State in the Leaders division - coach Bret Bielema says his team's focus remains solely on the Boilermakers (4-4, 2-2).
"I think they know it's out there. I mean, people are going to talk to them about it," Bielema said. "But for us, to get where we need to be, we need to take care of (practice) and take care of Saturday. Purdue is our challenge. I think any time you're in this situation, the more you can focus on a task at hand, it just helps the picture become clearer overall."
The Badgers have outscored Purdue 146-53 en route to taking the last five meetings in this series, including a 34-13 road win last season as Ball ran for 127 yards and two scores.
The Boilermakers failed to build on their 21-14 victory Oct. 22 over then-No. 23 Illinois, dropping to 0-3 on the road with last Saturday's 36-14 loss to then-No. 17 Michigan.
Purdue, which opened the scoring with Caleb TerBush's 48-yard TD pass to Gary Bush, couldn't generate much offense the rest of the way. TerBush completed 9 of 13 passes for 156 yards while Robert Marve was 8 of 14 for 66 yards with a TD and an interception.
The defense fared worse, surrendering 535 yards of total offense - including a season-high 339 on the ground.
Coach Danny Hope knows his team faces another tough task in Madison.
"It's a great place to go. It's really a lot of fun. It's a tremendous environment," Hope said. "It's a challenge, but it's one of the reasons why you play and coach big-time football, to be in those types of environments.
"I like (the underdog) role at times. I'm a competitive person. Being the underdog doesn't deter my belief in winning. We've won a lot of big games over the years that we were underdogs before the game. Once the game starts, all the bets are off, you have to play the game."
Purdue has dropped 13 consecutive road meetings against top 25 opponents since defeating then-No. 14 Wisconsin 26-23 on Oct. 18, 2003.