The offense showed it wasn't completely on life support, despite a freshman quarterback making his first career start.
The defense played admirably after being placed in difficult situations.
But the end result -- Wisconsin 34, Purdue 13 -- was reached because the Boilermakers committed four turnovers, including three interceptions in the second half that led to 21 points.
Overall, the seventh-ranked Badgers -- who trailed 10-6 at halftime -- scored 24 points off Purdue turnovers.
"The turnovers were the deciding point," coach Danny Hope said.
Turnovers defined the Boilermakers' 2009 season, leading to a 5-7 record. This year, though, Purdue had avoided those mistakes in close games. That was, until Saturday.
Freshman Sean Robinson -- the third quarterback to start for the Boilermakers this season -- had three interceptions, and Antavian Edison lost a second-quarter fumble.
"If we hadn't turned the ball over as much, we could've won that game," said tight end Kyle Adams, who had six catches for 29 yards.
Each time Purdue made a mistake, Wisconsin pounced.
Leading 7-0 and marching toward a second score, Edison fumbled at the Badgers' 25-yard line. Cornerback Antonio Fenelus scooped up the loose ball and raced 51 yards to the Purdue 25.
"I felt like I was down, but I got hit pretty hard," said Edison, who had six receptions for 73 yards. "It was a pretty good lick by the defender. I felt like I was down, but the replay doesn't lie."
Phillip Welch's 44-yard field goal brought the Badgers within 7-3 with 8:08 left until halftime.
On Purdue's third play of the second half, middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean intercepted Robinson's pass and returned it to the Boilermakers' 18. Five plays later, Scott Tolzien hit freshman receiver Jared Abbrederis for a 7-yard touchdown.
Wisconsin went from trailing 10-3 nearing halftime to leading 13-10.
"I was staring my receiver down," said Robinson, who was 8-for-19 in the second half for 50 yards. "I lost the (middle) backer to the inside, and he followed where I was looking. I threw it right into him."
After the Boilermakers pulled within 20-13 on Carson Wiggs' second field goal with 13:35 to play, outside linebacker Mike Taylor intercepted a tipped pass off the hands of receiver Cortez Smith, giving the Badgers another short field.
Two plays later, running back Montee Ball -- who gained 127 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns -- raced 15 yards for a score and a 27-13 lead.
Wisconsin put the finishing touches on its fifth straight win over Purdue when Fenelus returned Robinson's third interception 36 yards for the final score with 8:31 to play.
"We did think, after we saw their offensive plan, that we might be able to get our hands on a couple of balls," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "We talked about being opportunistic, and obviously that started off the second half pretty good."
--From the moment the game ended at Illinois, Sean Robinson was told he would be Purdue's starting quarterback for the Nov. 6 matchup against seventh-ranked Wisconsin.
The trust and confidence settled down Robinson, who played better but still made too many mistakes during the Boilermakers' 34-13 loss at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The freshman had a 23-yard touchdown pass to Antavian Edison in the first quarter, but his three second-half interceptions led directly to 21 points.
"There were some things that didn't go our way, but he did so much better," fifth-year tight end Kyle Adams said. "You can see him developing each and every week. He's a great player now, and he's going to be an even better player as we play this season."
The native of Springfield, Ill., became Purdue's third starting quarterback this season after injuries to Robert Marve and Rob Henry. Henry hasn't been able to throw since suffering a laceration to his right index finger against Ohio State.
Robinson has been thrust into the role by default. He becomes the first Purdue quarterback to make his starting debut against a ranked team since John Reeves faced No. 4 Ohio State in 1995.
"I can't imagine it," Adams said. "I played as a freshman tight end in the Big Ten, and that was insane. To be a quarterback and do what he's doing and growing each week ... he believes in himself, he believes in us."
Who would be Purdue's starting quarterback heading into the Illinois game Oct. 30 was the No. 1 topic. During the week leading up to Wisconsin, head coach Danny Hope said the coaching staff would get Robinson ready to be the starter, curbing some of the uncertainty.
Robinson finished 19 of 38 for 141 yards.
"It helps a lot when you have a week to prepare in all aspects of the game," he said.
--Lost in the 34-13 final score that included 24 points as the result of Purdue turnovers, the Boilermakers defense had a relatively solid performance.
The Badgers entered this game ranked 13th nationally and second in the Big Ten Conference in rushing, averaging 221.4 yards per game. Purdue limited Wisconsin to 173 rushing yards.
Wisconsin was ranked 11th nationally in fewest sacks allowed -- six in 181 passing attempts -- and had allowed no more than one in six consecutive games. Purdue sacked quarterback Scott Tolzien three times.
It helped the Boilermakers that linebacker Jason Werner (ankle) and free safety Albert Evans (knee) returned to action.
"We thought we did a nice job of coming downhill and really controlling the run game, especially early," said Werner, who made three tackles. "We hit our gaps hard and got a couple of tackles for losses.
"We got good pressure from the linebackers and from the linemen. We did a good job getting back there. We just need to finish the second halves of games."
Purdue was outscored 28-3 during the second half, with 21 points coming as the result of turnovers. Still, Werner liked what Purdue's defense did.
"We've got good players, and we've executed at times when (opponents) can't even get a yard out of there," Werner said. "When we execute, we play well.
"We made strides today. We went in at halftime and were playing good football. We just need to finish one."
--Middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford had six more tackles, increasing his team-leading total to 69.
"Having (Werner and Evans) back helped a lot," Beckford said. "They are leaders on the team and on the defense. We had a lot of the continuity back. We played better as a group.
"The defense is set up for me to make those tackles. I don't feel like I was doing anything out of my way. The defense funnels tackles to me, so I have to make the plays that come my way."
GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Joe Holland -- Holland was on the receiving end of a vicious hit on special teams, being helped off the field. He returned and led the Boilermakers with seven tackles.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Antavian Edison -- The sophomore had a career-best six catches, including a 23-yard touchdown pass. He finished with 74 yards, but his second-quarter fumble prevented Purdue from extending its early lead.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're disappointed we lost. You can't put an asterisk next to an 'L.' We can gain some confidence from some of the success we had on the field. It will help us win some games the rest of the year." -- Purdue coach Danny Hope.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Waynelle Gravesande's 22-yard punt return was Purdue's longest of the season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Turnovers haven't been a big problem this season, but the Boilermakers have allowed 52 points the last three games after their own mistakes.
--WR Keith Smith (knee) is out for the season.
--QB Robert Marve (knee) is out for the season.
--WR Justin Siller (foot) missed his fifth straight game. He did go through warm-ups.
--FB Jared Crank (knee), CB Mike Eargle (foot) and DT Justin Kitchens (knee) did not play against Wisconsin.
The TSX Files: Purdue feels better after loss
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