While the running game and the offensive line will get a lot of credit, Joel Stave's work in the passing game in the first quarter spread out the Purdue defense. Wisconsin ran eight rushing plays and eight passing plays in the first 15 minutes, gaining 79 and 63 yards, respectively.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada engineered a solid game plan, and Stave got tight end Jacob Pedersen back involved with the offense, hitting his tight end early and often. Stave spread the ball around and completed three passes over 20 yards to extend the field.
Combine the bad weather and the way the Badgers' running game was racking up yardage, Stave didn't need to do anything in the second half other than hand the ball off. Stave attempted only two passes after halftime, and the one he threw was an ugly, lollypop interception in the end zone for a touchback.
Stave has a 149.64 passing rating, which ranks fourth among freshmen QBs and 27th overall in nation, but he has to start being smarter with his throws and reads. Although he's only been intercepted twice, Stave should feel fortunate his total is that low.
Senior Montee Ball rushed 29 times for a career-high 247 yards and three touchdowns. It was the fourth 100-yard game for Ball this season the 20th of his career. He went over 150 yards for the 10th time in his career and it was the third 200-yard game of his career.
Ball now has 72 career touchdowns. According to official NCAA stats (did not include bowl games before 2002), Ball is just the third player in FBS history to score 70 or more TDs in his career, joining Ricky Williams of Texas (75) and Travis Prentice of Miami (OH) (78). Ball's 72 TDs give him the Wisconsin and Big Ten career records. He passed 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who scored 71 career TDs (Dayne had eight TDs in bowl games in his career).
"(I was proud of) playing for my teammates (and) finally waking up and being that player they were all looking for," said Ball. "It was no secret last year I was scoring touchdowns a lot of times. Coming into this game, I told myself that not everybody was going to be blocked, so I need better YAC (yards after contact)." After James White started the first series, Ball got back to his old self on the game's third series. After Kenzel Doe misjudged a punt and Sam Arneson was whistled for a false start, pinning UW on its two, Ball spun out of tackle attempt by Sean Robinson in the end zone, turning a safety into an eight-yard gain.
"That's what makes him special," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "That's what gets not only our guys excited, but people at the next level. That's definitely a Heisman Trophy type run."
White went over the 100-yard mark for the sixth time in his career and the first time since running for 134 yards against Northwestern on Nov. 27, 2010. It was the fourth time that both Ball and White went over 100 yards in the same game.
UW hasn't had a RB with 200-plus yards and other RB w/100-plus yards since Sept. 13, 1997 (Dayne, 254; Faulkner 114). Freshman Melvin Gordon got into the act late, as his 51-yard run in the final two minutes gave him a total of 80 yards on seven carries. Gordon likely would have had more, but he fumbled on his first carry of the first half and was pulled.
Combining for only three catches in the last four games, Pedersen, much like the rest of Wisconsin's offense, returned to form with a team-best 77 receiving yards and recording his first touchdown catch since week two in the first quarter to open Wisconsin's string of 38 straight points.
"I was struggling with some drops passes and if you can't show him you can make plays, he's not going to call your number," said Pedersen, who tied with receiver Jared Abbrederis for the team lead with four catches. "I am excited to keep moving forward."
Brian Wozniak also got into the mix with a pair of catches for 40 yards, including a long of 21. Unfortunately for Wozniak, that 21-yard gain could have gone for a touchdown had he not tripped inside the five-yard line. Ball scored on the next play.
"I told him, ‘thank you,'" said Ball with a smile. "I wanted to see his mood first, but he was joking around."
After Ricky Wagner got his right knee rolled over by right guard Kyle Costigan with 1:36 remaining in the second quarter, the Badgers adjusted their front five by inserting Zac Matthias at left guard and moving Ryan Groy to right tackle. Matthias hadn't taken left guard repetitions since fall camp and Groy took his first left tackle reps in the last year Friday. The group didn't miss a beat.
"I can't say enough about what coach (Bart) Miller has done bringing those guys along," said Bielema.
Even with a makeshift line in the second half, Wisconsin rushed 34 times for 277 yards (8.1 yards per carry), three touchdowns and didn't give up a sack against a Purdue defensive front hyped to be one of the best in the conference.
"It was a testament to how we work and how we study the game," said junior center Travis Frederick. "We study it from all angles, so we know all the positions we have to play … It shows how the offensive line plays the game and how coach (Bart) Miller teaches us the game."
With a healthier defensive line rotation, Wisconsin's front four was an aggressive bunch from the start. The defensive ends – David Gilbert, Pat Muldoon and Brendan Kelly – accounted for three of the team's nine tackles for loss and two of the team's season-high five sacks. Warren Herring also got into the mix with a nine-yard sack and a pass breakup.
Purdue's running game did nothing against Wisconsin's starters, which is another solid performance to build on.
Chris Borland admitted the group got after a Purdue team put on its heels last week and the starters held the Boilermakers to only 171 total yards, but was still not satisfied.
"We wanted a complete game," said Borland. "That's what we were hoping for, but a better effort that we put forward so far."
Nobody registered double-digit tackles against Purdue, but the Boilermakers weren't on the field very much, only being on the field for 21:18. Borland led the team with seven tackles, including two for loss and one sack. Senior Mike Taylor almost equaled those numbers, but finished with five tackles. Ethan Armstrong finished with two tackles, but needed crutches after the game after hurting his knee.
Bielema tweeted on Sunday that the junior won't need surgery and should be ready for Saturday's game.
"We got a lot of poise on our defense," said Borland.
The first five-plus minutes of Saturday's game were an adventure for junior free safety Dezmen Southward. On the first play of scrimmage, a lack of pressure from UW's defensive line allowed Antavian Edison to get separation on Southward, resulting in a wide-open 52-yard completion to set up the first score 38 seconds into the game.
On the ninth Purdue play, Southward made up for his gaffe by intercepting an overthrown pass and returning it 31 yards to the Wisconsin 42. He was just as aggressive in the second half, throwing his shoulder into Akeem Hunt to turn a screen play into a 3-yard loss.
Wisconsin's secondary held Purdue's passing game and its three quarterbacks to only 124 passing yards.
Eerily echoing Wisconsin's special teams effort against Purdue last season, the badgers. After Raheem Mostert took Purdue's first two kickoffs 49 and 74 yards, setting up 10 of Purdue's 17 total points in a 63-17 blowout, Akeem Hunt took the opening kickoff 44 yards and Mostert took the second kickoff 57. Hunt's return set up the Boilermaker's first score.
If it wasn't for a couple of tackles by Michael Caputo, Hunt and Mostert might have gone for a touchdown. After those two plays, Purdue didn't have a return over 20 yards the rest of the game.
"They were huge and if you looked at our game last year against them, the source of most of their points came from their kickoff return games," said Southward. "They got us on a couple, but I think we did a good job of fighting."
A windy, cloudy afternoon turned into a rainy affair midway through the second quarter, made kicking an adventure for sophomore kicker Kyle French.
"It was pretty tough conditions out there," said Bielema. "French has been kicking the ball pretty … The guy has been hitting. Sometimes you have to weather the storm. It was pretty tough. I understand. I want to make them all, but that was a pretty difficult situation."
It appeared on French's first miss – a 44-yard try in the first quarter – that a low snap caused holder Stephen Salata to not get the laces of the football pointed toward the goal post. After hitting his second attempt from 30 yards into the wind and rain, French's third attempt was partially deflected by Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, sending it wide left.
It was Short's sixth career blocked kick, a new school record.
"I felt like I hit the ball pretty well today," said French. "Obviously 1-for-3 on paper, but I felt I did pretty good today."
Wisconsin's biggest special teams play came near the end of third quarter when defensive tackle knifed through the formation to block a punt on Purdue's 22-yard line. Wisconsin increased its lead to 31-7 five plays later.
"Beau is an instinctive guy," said Bielema. "We called punt safe, nobody blocked him so he kept coming … Going back to last spring, he really started to show some things."