Seeing tailback Akeem Hunt matched up against middle linebacker Derek Landisch, a mismatch if there ever was one, Purdue quarterback Austin Allenby hit the Hunt along the sidelines and Wisconsin hopelessly watched the senior out run everybody for 79 yards to the end zone.
It was a play that brought Purdue back to within one score at 24-16 and ignited a Boilermakers crowd that only had three field goals to cheer about up until that point, but a gash that didn’t rattle the nation’s top-ranked defense.
“Our coaches really honed in on what they took advantage of in that big play, and we just kind of hunkered down,” said safety Michael Caputo. “We just followed our rules, made some adjustments and just kept playing the way we’ve been playing.”
Hunt’s score – a run of 10 straight points by Purdue – was the last thing the Boilermakers were able to successfully execute Saturday, as Wisconsin’s adjustments led to the Badgers giving up only 24 yards on the final 24 plays in a 34-16 victory at Ross-Ade Stadium.
That string of dominance helped the Badgers’ defense finish with only 230 total yards allowed, the third straight opponent UW has held under 250 yards. Purdue, which entered the game averaging 174.6 on the ground, managed a meager 26 rushing yards on 26 carries, the third straight UW opponent that failed to break 100 yards.
In lowering its FBS-leading defense to 251.1 yards per game, Wisconsin has given up 23 points, 544 total yards (181.3) and 148 rushing yards over the last three weeks.
“Apart from the really intelligent game scheme the coaches come up with, just be the toughest guys on the field, just go out there and prepare all week and go out there and execute,” said Caputo of UW’s three game stretch. “It’s that simple how we’ve been doing that.”
According to members of Wisconsin, the answer is a consistent pass rush, something that was missing last year in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s first year. Crunching the numbers in the offseason, Aranda calculated that the Badgers’ blitzed on roughly 46 percent of their snaps, generating only 26 sacks; a far cry from the 2012 defense generating better numbers despite blitzing less than 10 percent of the time.
That hasn’t been a problem this season. Wisconsin upped its total to 28 sacks with four against the Boilermakers. Three sacks came from sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel, who is playing his way into the conversation for first-team All-Big Ten honors after finishing with seven tackles and four tackles for loss.
“Having those guys be able to pass rush allows us in the back end to only cover for three seconds max,” said cornerback Darius Hillary. “Playing off of that, it definitely helps out a lot. Vince Biegel has done a great job this fall.”
Biegel now leads the team with 6.5 sacks on the season and appeared to find another gear on third down, registering one of his sacks and another tackle for no gain on the crucial down. Purdue finished 4-for-17 on third down.
“He made some big time plays for us,” UW coach Gary Andersen said of Biegel. “He was physical, and he was hard for them to deal with.”
Hunt’s catch and run was the second time Wisconsin had to adjust to a curveball Purdue threw at them offensively. On the opening drive, Purdue move the chains four times by doing a variety of pass and run plays UW hadn’t practice on during the week, ticking off the first 6 minutes, 42 seconds of game time to take an early 3-0 lead.
Once the adjustment period was over, Wisconsin allowed a combined 69 yards on the next six drives, and just three field goals, before Hunt’s run called for the bolts to be retightened.
Those two drives represented 142 yards of Purdue’s total, or 61.7 percent.
“We’ve been really practicing hard together and feeding off each other,” said Caputo. “Everyone has been playing 100 percent. It’s great to be out there.”