Everyone was up in arms after Arizona State Todd Graham, gloating in the wake of his team's controversial win over Wisconsin in week three, called the Badgers passing game "primitive." After watching the offense work Saturday, it appears Graham was being kind.
A week after being inconsistent against the Sun Devils, sophomore quarterback Joel Stave was virtually nonexistent against Purdue. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 158 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He could have had a couple touchdowns to senior Jared Abbrederis if he didn't misfire on a couple throws, including a deep throw that would have gone for 60 yards. That can't happen in conference play or against premier teams.
Another issue that can't happen is careless turnovers, which Stave had for the third time in four games after staring down another receiver. With Wisconsin leading 14-7 in the second quarter, Stave said he had a "miscommunication" with tight end Brian Wozniak. Wozniak took blame for the turnover, which cornerback Ricardo Allen returned and helped set up a Purdue field goal to cut the lead to 14-10, but the play could have been avoided.
The only thing that saves this grade is head coach Gary Andersen complimenting Stave for some of the checks he did at the line of scrimmage to help the running game.
It's obvious that the passing game hasn't progressed the way Andersen, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig or Stave thought it would have through four games. If Stave doesn't play better next week, Wisconsin has no chance to win.
It's no longer a question of "if" Wisconsin's running back tandem is the best in the country, as it has become blatantly obvious that the Badgers' duo of Melvin Gordon and James White are in a class all themselves.
Gordon carried a career-high 16 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns while White totaled 16 carries for 145 yards and one touchdown (a career-long 70-yarder in the first quarter).
"I believe we have two NFL backs playing for us now," said Andersen. "They're just so dynamic, their ability to make people miss. They really kind of complement each other with the running styles in my opinion. So they're special kids. The third guy out there on the field is not too bad either."
That third guy is freshman Corey Clement, who was the workhorse late in the third quarter until the end of the game to finish with 83 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. As a team, Wisconsin rushed for 388 yards and five touchdowns against a Purdue team giving up less than 120 yards a game on the ground though the first three weeks of the season.
"We all work hard during practice," said White. "We try to be complete backs whether that's making guys miss, putting our shoulders down, picking up blitzes. We go out there and work hard during practice and it shows up on Saturday's."
Gordon leads the country in rushing yards per game (156.0), and White ranks No. 23 overall (110.5). Gordon's 11.8 yards per carry also leads the nation as do his 624 rushing yards. Regardless of how many carries Gordon should get and how the work is being distributed, both are producing at an astounding rate. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
"There are some different touches, a different feel that you do for what they do the best," Andersen said. "They're fired up for each other when things go well and when things aren't going so good, they look to each other to get it fixed. It's a friendly competition. Trust me, it is a competition."
With Jacob Pedersen going down in the first quarter with a knee injury, senior Jared Abbrederis' role in the offense became even bigger … if that's even possible. Therefore it wasn't a surprise that Abbrederis led Wisconsin with 10 targets (seven more than any other play) had seven of UW's 12 receptions and 94 of the Badgers' 158 receiving yards.
He also had 16 rushing yards on a jet sweep, was great on his downfield blocks and went back to handling punt returns with junior Kenzel Doe out with an undisclosed injury.
White (three catches, 49 yards), Alex Erickson (1 catch for 12) and Rob Wheelwright (1 catch for three) made up the rest of the passing yardages. With no tight ends catching passes and Wheelwright having a bad fourth-down drop, UW needs more from players not named Abbrederis.
Purdue's record might indicate the Boilermakers won't be very good this season, but defensive tackles Bruce Gaston and Ryan Watson are as good of pair as the Badgers may see this season. It didn't seem to matter, as the Badgers rolled in all areas and neutralized the defensive front.
"I think we prepared well enough that we knew when they were going to bring stuff and we executed well when they did," said senior Ryan Groy. "They are solid. They are big dudes. They played hard. They made some plays, but in the end we controlled them pretty good and ran the ball well."
Wisconsin has six runs of at least 50 yards this season, a credit to what the offensive line is doing despite its starting inexperience. The offensive line had to make a switch at center in the third quarter when Dallas Lewallen went down with an injury, but Dan Voltz and the line kept right on ticking.
"This is definitely one of the tightest groups I have been a part of," said Groy. "I think the new coaching transition definitely brought us together and we've been tight ever since. We definitely know we needed to play as a group and we've done that."
The six tackles for loss and one sack are a little too much given up by the line, which is the only reason why they don't get a top grade.
Purdue tailback Akeem Hunt led the Boilermakers in rushing and receiving entering the game, but the Badgers' defensive line didn't give him an inch. Hunt had 31 yards on nine carries for a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. As a team, Purdue – the worst rushing team in the conference – only managed 45 yards on 21 carries (2.1 ypc).
It wasn't for Rob Henry's 22-yard touchdown run on a broken play, those numbers would have looked even better.
"I thought we played really well," said senior Beau Allen. "We played really hard, and it was a good outcome, (especially) that they didn't have too many yards rushing, because that's something that we strive for."
Wisconsin's defense registered four sacks on Saturday, three coming from the defensive line. The Badgers showed they can shut down pro-style offenses this season. Let's see what they can do with a couple of really good spread teams coming up on the schedule.
Chris Borland led Wisconsin with six tackles and added a pass breakup; a play he probably should have intercepted that allowed Purdue to put three points on the board. Conor O'Neil continues to fill in admirably for junior Derek Landisch, who hasn't played since the opener. O'Neil finished with five tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.
Leon Jacobs had a tackle for loss, Ethan Armstrong had a quarterback hurry and Vince Biegel, who played in place of Brendan Kelly (hamstring), had one sack and one quarterback hurt. He had a couple containment issues, but nothing that overall hurt the defense.
"It was nice to get my first career start," said Biegel. "It was an exciting moment for me, but it was exciting to get some game reps today."
From a group that was beaten soundly the week before, this was a nice bounce back for Wisconsin's young secondary, especially since its most experienced cornerback – Peniel Jean – left the game early with an injury.
Quarterback Rob Henry completed 18 of 36 passes for 135 yards – his longest pass was only 19 yards - with no touchdowns and an interception, which came courtesy of Sojourn Shelton.
"It was very important," said Shelton of the interception. "Our coaches stressed that they didn't want (Purdue) to score anymore, so I was just trying to make a play. The defense overall, (especially) they guys up front, they caused (the interception). I give them all the credit."
After the cornerbacks were flagged for five penalties against Arizona State, including three on Shelton, not one flag flew in its direction against the Boilermakers.
"It was definitely a good feeling," said Darius Hillary, responsible for two penalties last week. "Last week the coaches talked to us about some of the (pass interference) calls and they were saying, ‘If you are being aggressive and actually competing, they're not going to really be too mad … but we can't have any more self inflicted wounds.' I definitely think we played clean on the back end."
Kyle Zuleger made five tackles, Michael Cauto had four (including a tackle for loss), Leo Musso had three and sophomore Tanner McEvoy, who hasn't been able to work at quarterback or wide receiver in practice because of a left wrist injury, got a handful of plays at safety when UW went six defensive backs.
For the fourth straight game, Wisconsin didn't allow a passing touchdown.
Kyle French made both of field goal attempts (hmmmm), but the real story of the game was redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Endicott getting his shot on kickoffs after French handled the first three attempts.
Endicott's's first two kickoffs (both in second quarter) were under 60 yards, but his next three (all in second half) were all 65 yards. Endicott averaged 60.6 yards per kick with one touchback. The Boilermakers started those drives at their 21, 29, 25, 23 and 20.
The kicks also neutralized Akeem Hunt, who had returns of 26, 45 and 36 against French.
Punter Drew Meyer averaged 44.7 yards on his three punts, Abbrederis handled three punts (with a long of 10 yards) and Zuleger returned his two kickoffs 27 and 26 yards.