The Badgers dominated the trenches against Purdue, creating giants holes for the running backs against a talented defensive line, simply wearing down the Boilermakers over time. The run game was so effective that Wisconsin only needed to pass twice in the second half. Both Montee Ball and James White flashed what they're capable of doing when the offensive line can give a performance like they did against Purdue. Throw in the face that the Badgers' defensive line found ways to constantly pressure the three quarterbacks Purdue used in the game, it was as solid a game as fans and the UW program could have hoped for.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory on Saturday and keeping possession of the axe.
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, Montee Ball, RB (3) - Ball looked like his old self Saturday, running with a purpose and running over defenders. It was fun watching him play his best game of the season. One of my favorite runs by Ball was his 67-yard touchdown. Not only did Ball show great vision and balance, he was able to make three defenders miss by simply shifting from his left to his right. Ball finished the game with a career-high 247 yards with three touchdowns, passing Ron Dayne on the all-time touchdown list in the Big Ten. You could tell Ball was having fun running the football and doing what he loves. If Ball can keep his play up for the rest of the season it will only mean good things for the Badgers offense.
2, Ryan Groy, LT (NR) - With Ricky Wagner likely out, Groy will have to fill in for the senior captain. When Wagner went down late in the first half against Purdue, Groy filled in nicely and the rest of the offensive line didn't miss a beat. Groy has been solid and versatile for the Badgers throughout his career, so to see him step in and replace a talented player like Wagner was impressive. It will help him that he has a week to prepare protecting the quarterback's blind side. It'll be important for Groy and the rest of the line to continue opening up holes for the tailbacks.
3, Joel Stave, QB (1) - Stave played fine against Purdue, but the one thing fans will remember about his performance was his interception. Stave's throw was intended for Chase Hammond but it was into triple coverage. Hammond is a big receiver who should be able to win many jump ball situations but he's not going to win them when three defensive backs blanket him. Stave's interception ended up being his last pass of the game as well, so it should leave a bad taste in Stave's mouth. Prior to that, Stave had to be pleased with his opening drive. After Purdue went up a touchdown on its opening possession, the redshirt freshman was able to march the offense right down the field to tie the game. He was able to find his open receivers and made a nice throw to Jared Abbrederis that led to a Jacob Pedersen touchdown on the next play. You can tell Stave has a chance to be a good quarterback for Wisconsin but it will take him time and game experience. Hopefully by the time his career is over, we'll see more plays from his opening drive against Purdue instead of poor throws that lead to interceptions.
4, Mike Taylor, LB (4) - I think one of the turning points in the game was on the Boilermakers' last offensive possession in the first half. In Wisconsin territory and in position to score points, Taylor was able to sack Robert Marve for 13 yards on second down to knock Purdue out of field goal range. That kind of play is what the defense needs to make in order to win games. Taylor once again had a solid game finishing with five tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Taylor continues to play well and has really picked his game of up late. Taylor's play has helped the rest of his defensive mates play better.
5, Jacob Pedersen, TE (NR) -Why can't Pedersen play like that on a consistent basis? Clearly having his best game of the year with four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, Pedersen was able to help the offense strike a balance and help the running game. Not only did he do a good job help blocking for his running backs, but also carried the football once for ten yards. Pedersen has been nonexistent through the Badgers first six games, meaning this game will serve as a much needed confidence boost for Pedersen. Not only is it important that Pedersen had a good game, but will also hopefully help open up the passing game for Jared Abbrederis. If Pedersen can emerge as a threat in the passing game, defenses can't just focus on Abbrederis.
6, Conor O'Neill, LB (NR) - There is a chance Ethan Armstrong may play against Minnesota, meaning the redshirt junior will be involved in the game plan. If O'Neill does play, he should be able to fill in nicely for Armstrong. O'Neill hasn't received a lot of reps at the linebacker position so far this year. It's not because O'Neill isn't talented enough, it's just that he has two talented linebackers in front of him in Taylor and Armstrong. Even though O'Neill isn't playing as much as he would like, he is learning from three talented and smart linebackers. If he does get the start on Saturday, fans know that he'll be ready and make sure the linebackers don't miss a beat.
7, David Gilbert, DE (NR) - The Badgers' defensive line is going to have to carry over the same performance they had against Purdue to the game against Minnesota. The defensive line was able to sack Purdue's quarterbacks five times in the game. With the defensive line may or may not go up against a scrambler in MarQueis Gray, it will be important for them to keep containment. Gilbert is the Badgers most athletic defensive lineman and will have to be smart to make sure Gray (or whoever) stays in front of him.
Others to Note
Running back James White - White has really stepped his game up over these past two games. Like Ball, he's running with a purpose and has been able to help take some carries away from Ball. You can simply tell that White is running with a lot more confidence. It's also good to see that his early season struggles didn't get to him, was able to stay focus and waited till the Badgers needed him.
Free Safety Dezmen Southward - Not only did Southward help the Badgers defense create a turnover, but he also had his best game of the year. Southward was flying around the field on Saturday by registering five tackles and one tackle for loss. Southward's interception came at an important time in the first half, as the Boilers were at Wisconsin's 29-yard line when Southward picked off Caleb TerBush to stop a possible scoring drive. Despite Southward's good game, he was partly responsible for giving up a 51-yard play on the Boilers' first play of the game. There was a miscommunication on his end and the Badgers had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback on the play. With the way Southward played this past Saturday, it'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
Wide Receiver Jared Abbrederis -Abbrederis once again had another nice game, tying Pedersen with four catches for 43 yards. Stave once again looked for Abbrederis early in the game and it paid off. Abbrederis helped Wisconsin's first offensive possession of the game - catching two passes helping setup the Badgers' first touchdown. Abbrederis should again be targeted early against the Gophers to help get the Badgers offense started.
Linebackers Chris Borland - Borland led the team in tackles with seven and played a role in the Boilermakers' last offensive possession in the first half. After Taylor sacked Marve, Borland made sure that the Boilers weren't going to get back any yards, sacking Marve for 10 yards to close out the half. Borland will also have to play a role in helping keep contain of Gray, which Borland should be able to do.