Game Day Grades: Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A sluggish start was followed by a dominant finish. As a result, Wisconsin keeps pace in the tightly packed Big Ten Conference race with a 34-13 victory over Purdue Saturday. Badger Nation hands out the grades.

Quarterbacks

Yes, Wisconsin got the win but with all due respect, this was probably Scott Tolzien's worst game of the season.

Tolzien's numbers weren't good, as he finished 13 of 19 for only 130 yards and one touchdown. Wisconsin's offense was inept in the first 30 minutes. Five drives, two three-and-out series, one missed field goal and an interception that was the result of Tolzien overthrowing wide receiver Isaac Anderson down the middle on UW's first possession at the Purdue 21.

"That was stupid because it was first down," said Tolzien, who also had tight end Jacob Pedersen and wide receiver David Gilreath open on the play but threw into double coverage. "It was a poor decision and a poor throw."

One of the main reasons Wisconsin's offense 27 points was because of the defense. Of the three touchdowns and two field goals by the offense, only two of them required the Badgers to go over 18 yards. Tolzien did pass Jim Sorgi for sixth place on UW's all-time passing yards list, so we'll cut him a little slack. But when the Badgers face better offenses in the coming weeks and the bowl game, that kind of performance won't cut it.

"We've got to play better, myself included, and take the next step forward," Tolzien said.

Grade: C-

Running Backs

Where would the Badgers be without Montee Ball? Wisconsin might not have escaped Iowa City victorious and if he wasn't ready against Purdue, the Badgers might have had to turn to Bradie Ewing or Kyle Zuelger.

With James White out with a knee injury and John Clay unable to play most of the second half, Ball led the Badgers with 21 carries for a career-high 127 yards and two touchdowns.

Ball's first touchdown, a 31-yard run around the left end, made it 20-10 with 6:20 left in the third quarter as he powered over a defender and leaped over the pylon. He added a punctuation mark with his 15-yard fourth quarter touchdown run that saw a huge hole open in the middle of the field and reaching the end zone untouched to give UW a 27-13 lead.

"I had a chance when my number was called to go in and perform," Ball said. "I give credit to the line because they showed up and performed."

Clay was grinding along when he was hit on his right knee after burrowing two yards on fourth-and-one inside the UW 10. Clay hobbled off the field, was replaced by Ball and went to a stationary bike to try and loosen the knee.

When Clay couldn't get loose and with Ball running solid, the junior didn't want to risk the injury and force himself to go back out there and potentially hurt the team. He finished with 42 yards on 12 carries.

"Montee knows his role and when one of us go down, he's right there, stepping up and playing," Clay said. "It was an up and down day for me, but I am good to go and looking forward to next week."

Wisconsin's offense line was mostly solid, as Peter Konz delivered a great two-person block to spring Ball's lengthy run. However, the group allowed three sacks, a rarity for this group. The Badgers had given up just six sacks through their first eight games, which ranked them in a tie for 11th in the country. They also hadn't given up more than one sack in a game over their past six games. Purdue did lead the conference with 12 sacks, and the blitzes they ran seem to confuse the line.

"We were off of things and not on our assignments," said senior John Moffitt. "We were getting looks that we really didn't prepare for, which is not an excuse because it wasn't anything about our head."

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers

A healthy Nick Toon was great to see for the Badgers' offense and he responded with a team-best five catches for a team-high 62 yards. Toon passed Mel Reddick for 14th place on UW's all-time receiving yards list, and the Badgers will need him down the stretch to open up the running game.

The passing game has been a nice compliment for the Badgers, which was shown on Wisconsin's only passing touchdown. A fake handoff and a crossing Jared Abbrederis allowed the freshman to sneak behind the defense and catch a wide-open 7-yard pass.

Jake Byrne had an unnecessary holding penalty that happened after Ball ran by him on his way to a 42-yard touchdown. Wisconsin punted one play later. Lance Kendrick only played on passing downs and grabbed one catch for 9 yards.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line

The game was somewhat billed as J.J. Watt vs. Ryan Kerrigan. Give the victory to Watt. The UW defensive end had three solo tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Kerrigan had three tackles, two solo, with no tackles for loss.

Wisconsin's defensive line registered three first-half sacks, but Purdue converted 6 of 9 third-down chances and true freshman quarterback Sean Robinson found the gaps in UW's 3-3-5 defense. When the Badgers went more with the base defense, the defensive line stopped Purdue on 7 of 10 third downs, including the first five.

Patrick Butrym quietly had a nice guy for the front, making five tackles and Pat Muldoon continues to grow as a football player, registering two sacks and a sack.

Grade: B

Linebackers

As Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren was speaking, Culmer St. Jean knew what was being asked of him. As a senior, he knew that he had to make a play and take care of his football team.

He did that by picking off Robinson on third and 5 from their 25, dropping straight back into his zone and following Robinson's eyes so he knew where to break in order to make the pick. He returned it 14 yards to the 18 and UW was in the end zone five-plays later.

"I just dropped back and read the quarterback and he took me right to the ball," said St. Jean, who added eight tackles.

Mike Taylor played the healthiest he has played all season, and the results of a restful bye week showed. Taylor finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and had his hand in two turnovers. The first was the most vital, helping force a second-quarter fumble by wide receiver Antavian Edison with Purdue leading 7-0 and driving.

His second turnover was also key, as Taylor came up with his second career interception with the Badgers holding a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. On a brilliant pass deflection by cornerback Niles Brinkley, Taylor grabbed the ball and ran it back 26 yards to the Purdue 14, which led to a touchdown.

"He's a great football player," said Watt. "It's a lot of fun to play with him when he's healthy. He made some great plays, which obviously helped us out there."

The big negative was tackling, especially with Blake Sorensen. Sorensen missed a number of one-on-one tackles, although one of which led to Taylor's forced fumble.

Grade: B+

Secondary

Antonio Fenelus doesn't care if people view his secondary as underrated. All the junior cornerback is try to play every week and believe in each other. Fenelus made a believer out of people with his play Saturday.

While his first collegiate touchdown on a 36-yard interception return will be the memory from this game, it was his 51-yard fumble return to the Purdue 27 that got UW on the board with three points and took what looked the be an expected touchdown, and a 14-0 lead, away from the Boilers.

"It was very big," said Fenelus, who also finished with a team-high nine tackles (all solo). "Seeing the ball there, I just went as far as I could go. With our offense not being able to do anything at the beginning, I think it was a big momentum for our team to go out there and put some points on the board."

Wisconsin got solid play from safety Aaron Henry (eight tackles) and Brinkley's pass breakup led to Taylor's interception. Senior Jay Valai suffered a partially torn right calf during practice last week and tried to gut it out on his first day running.

Valai was replaced by Shelton Johnson on the first series after he missed an open-field tackle on a third-down play on Purdue's first-quarter touchdown drive. Valai returned in the second half after convincing Secondary Coach Chris Ash that he could play after getting his right leg from the knee down to his ankle , taking some painkillers and doing some stretches.

He didn't play that well, but credit his want to be out there.

Grade: A-

Special teams

Purdue was clearly aware of David Gilreath's return abilities (see 97-yard return against Ohio State) and made the decision to kick three times to Bradie Ewing (three returns, 54 yards). Gilreath handled one kick and returned 27 yards, thanks to a great hit by Johnson. Johnson blindsided Purdue linebacker Joe Holland was a huge hit, patiently waiting until Holland turned up field so he wouldn't draw a penalty.

Holland stayed on the field for several minutes before being helped to the sideline.

Philip Welch passed P.J. Hill for fifth place on UW's all-time scoring list with a 44 and 38-yard field goal and four extra points, but he panicked on his first attempt after a high snap, rushing the kick. Brad Nortman averaged 43.5 yards on four punts, and continues to have a solid season for the UW punt unit.

Grade: A


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