It was more than nine minutes into coach Bret Bielema's press conference before anyone asked a question about Russell Wilson. Chalk that up to questions on special teams, bouncing back and senior leadership, but the real reason could be that everyone has just come to expect a solid performance under center.
"He to this day does something every day that I am just amazed at but on the same account, it's not shocking, it's not surprising," Bielema said. "His attitude, his energy … he just embraces (it)."
Wilson was again stellar, completing 15-of20 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers in three quarters of action. Wilson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen extended his touchdown streak to 33-straight games, three away from tying the NCAA record.
His 5-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis later in the first quarter gave him 21 TD passes for the season, tying the Wisconsin school record for single-season touchdown passes (John Stocco, 2005), and was one of eight scores Wisconsin had in the red zone on eight trips (seven touchdowns, one field goal).
Wilson also added a rushing TD, his fourth of the season. Wilson is responsible for 26 touchdowns on the season (21 passing, four rushing, one receiving), surpassing the school record of 24 set by Randy Wright in 1983 and tied by Brian Calhoun in 2005.
The bootleg worked to perfection, too, for Wilson, as he ran in untouched from the PU 6 in the second quarter. Wilson faked a handoff to tailback James White, who had gained only 1 yard on first down, hesitated and ran around the left end with no problem, as defensive end Gerald Gooden focused on White and never on Wilson. That play was the separation point with Wisconsin going up 28-10 late in the half.
Those six yards were part of the 76 rushing yards he had on the day, a season high and the second-highest total of his career, and part of his 281 yards of total offense.
"If we are running the ball extremely well, they have to stop the run," Wilson said. "They had to bring everybody into the box and I was able to get to the edge. The offensive line did a great job."
Wilson did a great job and redshirt freshman Joe Brennan looked better on the field than in past performances, completing 3-of-4 passes for 36 yards.
Just from a complete standpoint (running, blocking, catching and working), Montee Ball is as good of running back as Wisconsin has had under Bielema.
"He's wired in a way where every play, he expects success," Bielema said.
Going over the 100-yard mark for the fifth time this season and 11th time in his career, Ball finished with 20 carries for a career-high 223 yards, giving him 1,076 yards on the season, and three touchdowns, extending his TD scoring streak to 15-straight games with three rushing scores.
Ball's 24 touchdowns tie him for first place on UW's single-season list, equaling Brian Calhoun, who had 24 in 2005. He is in sixth place in Big Ten history, just two behind the single-season record. It's an impressive accomplishment for a player that has started just 13 games in his career.
"We have our own little fantasy that every game from now on is like the championship game," Ball said. "And that really helped -- we just practiced really hard and did a great job."
In addition to Wilson's work in the running game, James White got a bone thrown his way. Getting just 21 combined carries the last two weeks, White got 17 carries for 50 yards and a pair of scores, capping off an interception and a long punt return. Credit to White, the reigning Big Ten freshman of the Year, for hanging in their despite quiet production.
Are there two more reliable receivers on Wisconsin's roster than tight end Jacob Pedersen and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis? The sophomore duo was at it again against Purdue. Pedersen caught his team-leading seventh TD pass of the season on the Badgers' first drive and Abbrederis caught his fifth touchdown pass in the last six games. Not much better can these guys get in a few years?
White led the team with four catches, senior Nick Toon made a brief appearance with 35 yards on three catches and sophomore Jeff Duckworth's 66-yard reception in the first quarter was the longest by a Badger this season and the longest of his career. In all, nine different players caught a pass.
Offensive Line Watching the Boilermakers front on film, Bielema and the offensive line saw a physical unit that was aggressive and presented problems. With the way Wisconsin's o-line manhandled the Purdue defense, it makes you wonder how good those front five on UW are.
"We took it upon ourselves this week to focus more on getting everything done and finishing everything," said senior guard Kevin Zeitler. "There was a fire in our belly today. We did not want this trend to continue."
Zeitler called the group ‘angry,' Peter Konz said he wanted to play ‘smart' and Travis Frederick just wanted to look forward. Whatever the mindset was, it worked, as the Badgers registered its highest point total of the season and tied the sixth-highest scoring output in school history.
The Badgers' 605 yards of total offense tied the 10th-highest single-game total in school history and marks UW's third 600-yard performance of the season. More importantly, a week after getting stymied on the run game, the Badgers chalked up 364 yards on the ground, the highest since rushing for 441 yards in a 55-20 win over Indiana on November 8, 2008. Ironically, that game also came after a painful last-second loss (Michigan State).
"Everybody was clicking today," said Zeitler. "We protected Russell well (one sack), the holes were there and everyone just did their jobs today."
A week after getting torched on the ground, allowing Ohio State to run for 268 yards, Wisconsin's defensive line responded with a much better effort against Purdue, allowing only 120 yards on the ground, no back over 50 yards rushing and just a 4.1 yards per carry average.
Wisconsin's defensive line didn't generating much pressure in the trenches, registering no sacks and just two tackles for loss, but got good effort off the edges from junior Brendan Kelly (two QB hurries), sophomore Tyler Dippel (three tackles, one TFLs) and redshirt freshman Warren Herring getting the most snaps of his young career.
"Warren has been, since week three or four, has really come on, great in one-on-one pass rush drills (and) I wanted to give him a role," Bielema said. "He's a big guy that has got power and moves extremely well."
Wisconsin needs to generate more pressure from its down linemen going forward, but stopping an opponent's running game was a good start.
Flip a coin between Chris Borland and Mike Taylor and odds are you will have accurately picked who led the Badgers in tackles. This week, the prize goes to Borland, who finished with 11 tackles, 3.5 TFLS and two forced fumbles, but both Borland and Taylor (9 tackles) registered their second interceptions of the season and both happily watched on the sideline as the offense turned those turnovers into seven points.
"They are big when the offense moves the ball like they can," Taylor said. "Anytime you can get the ball back to the offense, they can put up points."
After two poor performances, Bielema and secondary coach Chris Ash challenged junior cornerback Marcus Cromartie in the days leading up to the Purdue game, making sure he didn't get complacent in his preparation and that he played with some confidence.
"Honestly, I really didn't change much, but I focused on what I was doing at the beginning of the season and getting back to the basics," Cromartie said. "I wanted to come out and try to get better, and not worry about what happened these last two games."
Playing with a little of that confidence and swagger that he had in fall camp, a camp that saw him create a number of turnovers, Cromartie's timely pass breakup sent the ball into Taylor's hands for an interception and gave the ball back to UW at midfield.
It was one of two interceptions the secondary grabbed off Caleb TerBesh, who was held to 103 yards and a score while backup quarterback Robery Marve managed only 61 yards.
"We just wanted to bend, not break, and that's kind of how we did today," said Cromartie.
Antonio Fenelus has a big stop early in the game off great field position by Purdue. On their sixth play inside the Badgers 15, Fenelus' sniffed out the pass into the flat and dropped the receiver for a three yards loss. Purdue settled for a field goal and a 14-10 deficit, which turned out to be a big turning point in the game.
This unit still has issues, which was the result of a complete and total breakdown/lack of communication that allowed Crosby Wright to waltz into the end zone from 30 yards out. There was no Badgers player even close to him.
"I'm just going to say there was a bust in the coverage," Bielema said. "Shelton knew it right away."
And fans know that those mistakes are the reason why Wisconsin is no longer undefeated.
Asked to evaluate the kickoff coverage, Bielema said any of the media could probably do it. OK, my evaluation was that it stunk. How's that? Wisconsin allowed a 49-yard and 74-yard return in the first half that set up a Purdue touchdown and field goal, two returns that happened because of missed tackles by the kickoff unit.
"You just can't have missed tackles on kickoff coverage so we're going to have to a, evaluate our personnel and b, look at what we are doing with our alignment and coverage rules," said Bielema.
Bielema said he isn't a supportive of booing, but fans are fans of undisciplined, sloppy play. Bielema mentioned how banged up Wisconsin is with its depth, but it shouldn't be that hard to find discipline players who can tackle.
It wasn't all doom and gloom on special teams. Philip Welch nailed a 65-yard kick during warm-ups, giving Bielema the confidence to use him on a long field goal attempt heading toward the student section. The move worked when Wisconsin quickly went 36 yards in 20 seconds, giving Welch a dose of confidence when he nailed a 52-yard field goal.
In his first time on the unit this season, Welch had five kickoffs coverages (65.9 yards average, two touchbacks), so Bielema let Kyle French knock in a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to save his senior kicker for the stretch.
The best thing that probably happened to Wisconsin was that because of all the offense, the punt team only had to punt three times and curiously wasn't challenged. Brad Nortman calmly hit two punts inside the 20.