Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt haven't formally met, but the two star defensive ends have admired each other from afar.
Wisconsin had a bye last Saturday, so Watt spent time scouting Purdue, the Badgers' next opponent, in its game against Illinois. Although Watt paid extra attention to the Boilers' offense, he made sure to study Kerrigan, who recorded two tackles for loss and a sack.
Watt even gave a shout-out to Kerrigan on his Twitter page (@JJWatt99) during the game.
"He flies around," Watt said. "He has some great pass-rush moves, he's a speed guy but he also has some strength to him, as you saw on that sack -- it was a power move. He's one you watch on every play. You can't say that about too many defensive linemen."
The label also applies to Watt, according to Kerrigan. The Purdue senior has seen a lot of Watt this season and has come away "very impressed."
"He's so big, 290 pounds and 6-foot-6, and you can move him anywhere on the defensive line," Kerrigan said. "He's athletic enough to play on the edge but big enough to play inside, so his versatility is what has really stood out to me. Also, he always seems to come up with a big play at big times. I was watching him play Iowa and he got that sack late in the game -- it was a huge play."
Both players have made their share this season. Kerrigan leads the nation in tackles for loss with 18.5 and leads the Big Ten in sacks with 7.5 to go along with three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Watt is second in the league with 13.5 tackles for loss and tied for fourth with five sacks to go along with two blocked kicks, six pass deflections and five quarterback hurries.
The two D-ends are the front-runners for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and they'll be on the same field Saturday at Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium.
"It's kind of like we're facing each other almost because we both need to have success in order for our defenses to have success," Kerrigan said.
Watt also is aware of the "matchup" with Kerrigan but points out that they won't be on the field at the same time and will be facing two very different offensive schemes.
"People say it's J.J. Watt vs. Ryan Kerrigan," Watt said, "when in reality, neither of us will be blocking each other."
Now there's an idea. Imagine that.
Watt spends most of his time in the film room focusing on opposing offenses, but the Big Ten season provides him a resource to study several of the nation's elite defensive linemen, including Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Illinois' Corey Liuget. The Badgers junior began his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan, and he has been a full-time defensive end for less than three seasons.
"I can pick up speed moves from Kerrigan, I can pick up some great power moves from Clayborn and I can pick up some inside stuff from Heyward and Liuget," Watt said. "Those guys are ahead of me in knowing the position and mastering the position. There's a ton of great talent to watch out there and a ton of great moves I can pick up."
Not surprisingly, Kerrigan studies the same group of players.
"It's cool to watch Watt and Clayborn and Heyward and Liuget," he said. "You can take what they do and apply it to your own game."
Both Watt and Kerrigan have plenty at stake Saturday. Wisconsin is one of four one-loss teams in the Big Ten and can boost its Rose Bowl hopes. Purdue needs two wins to become bowl eligible for the first time since Kerrigan was a freshman in 2007.
Saturday also marks the final time Watt and Kerrigan will match up, at least at the college level. Kerrigan should be a first-round pick in April's NFL draft -- "I don't know how a team could pass him up with his speed and his strength combination," Watt said -- and Watt also projects extremely well to the next level.
"Hopefully I can find him after the game and congratulate him on a good game," Watt said. "And hopefully, going forward, I can talk to him a little bit and learn some tips because I'm obviously a big fan of his."