The numbers for Joel Stave look pretty good as you start reading from the left: 30-for-39 passing (76.9 percent) and 322 yards. In the last two weeks Stave has thrown for exactly 322 yards on 54 of 89 passing (60.7 percent). As you hit the other stats, such as no touchdowns and one interception, the numbers don’t look as good.
His interception was ugly, airmailing a wide open Rob Wheelwright while he was moving in the pocket. Instead of adding a field goal or a touchdown, Stave set up Purdue’s only points of the game with a 66-yard return. Shortly thereafter, Stave locked on and forced a pass to Alex Erickson into coverage in the red zone. Had he scanned to his left, he would have seen Wheelwright wide open for an easy score.
Wisconsin left a lot of points on the board, again, in the first half. Part of that blame falls on Stave’s shoulders. He has to play better moving forward.
Wisconsin needs Corey Clement to return and soon. Otherwise this is going to be a unit stuck in neutral.
Against the worst rush defense in the Big Ten and one of the worst ones in the country, Wisconsin managed only four runs over 10 yards (one was by Stave and another by Tanner McEvoy on a direct snap) and were limited to 96 total yards. That’s unacceptable.
Junior Dare Ogunbowale tied his career-high with six catches and picked up a career-high 51 receiving yards but finished with only 56 yards rushing on 18 carries and a touchdown on the ground. With Taiwan Deal out for the second straight game, Alec Ingold stayed the No.2 back. He finished with 19 yards on nine carries but scored on a pair of short-yardage runs that were critical.
All three of UW’s scoring runs required a lot of effort, including Ingold’s second score. On a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Ingold was initially contacted three yards into the backfield, was stood up at the two and kept churning his feet until he carried the defender over the goal line.
“I think he’s really comfortable with his role,” said Stave. “I think he’s done a great job just working his way into the offense. I know it’s tough as a true freshman to probably switch from linebacker to running back. But he’s done a tremendous job competing and I think he’s really come into his role very well.”
We’ve heard for weeks now that Wisconsin is on the cusp of being a really good running team. When Clement returns, maybe they will be because averaging 2.6 yards on 37 rushes won’t cut it.
Thanks in part to the lack of success in the run game, it’s evident now that the Badgers have some quality depth at the position. UW knows what it’s getting every week in Alex Erickson, who delivered again with team highs in catches (9) and yards (86), but the former role players are starting to emerge consistently.
Wheelwright averaged 10.2 yards on his six catches (61 yards), sophomore Jazz Peavy had two big first-half catches that went for 48 yards to set up the offense’s 10 points and tight end Troy Fumagalli looked solid with his routes to finish with 48 yards on four catches.
Peavy’s performance is tied to his health, which didn’t betray him in fall camp and has allowed him to slowly build a solid connection with Stave. His 20-yard catch on third-and-5 was the first real test in the game that the offense passes. UW finished 7 of 14 on third down.
There are still some inconsistencies with the group, as Reggie Love and Wheelwright continue to be good for at least one drop per game. Even so, the group is playing with confidence, which has made a big difference this season.
The development of Wisconsin’s offensive line continues to be stuck in neutral, not a shock considering the group continues to be a rotating door. With Dan Voltz (elbow) relegated to emergency status, Michael Deiter moved from left guard to center, Micah Kapoi flipped from right guard to left, Walker Williams slotted in at right guard and Beau Benzschawel made his second straight start at right tackle.
Benzschawel looked more comfortable in his second straight start but made a critical error at the end of the second quarter when he was beaten badly by Evan Panfil on the outside. Instead of UW having a shot at a touchdown, the Badgers had to burn their last timeout and attempt a field goal, which was missed.
After UW rushed for 27 yards on the first drive, they managed only 69 the rest of the way.
“Everyone has to do their job,” said Benzschawel. “We’re just one hit away from making a big play. Everybody’s just got to do their job. Once we do that, our big plays come.”
Although the run protection is limited, the pass protection from the group has been decent considering their youth. Including the sack at the end of the first half, Wisconsin gave up only two sacks and no quarterback hurries.
Benzschawel said it doesn’t bother him “as much” that the running game isn’t clicking because the offense is being productive in other ways. That’s good coach speak, because UW not being balanced – and the constant shuffling of offensive linemen - isn’t helping anything.
The tweak Wisconsin’s defensive coaching staff made to its base defense resulted in tremendous success. Moving Arthur Goldberg back to nose tackle and Conor Sheehy to the outside opposite Chikwe Obasih, The result was another dominating performance that had the Badgers hold Purdue to 55 rushing yards on 29 carries (1.9 ypc).
After surrendering 238 rush yards to Alabama in its season opener on Sept. 5, Wisconsin has given up an average of 81.33 rushing yards per game over its last six games.
If we’re nitpicking, the line didn’t generate much pressure on quarterback David Blough or record many tackles for loss. Again, small things.
Purdue payed a lot of attention to outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel and rightfully so. Problem with that plan was that it freed up T.J. Edwards to swallow up tackles. His career-high 16 stops, including 1.5 for loss, were impressive in how he bottled up the running game.
Wisconsin gave up just three plays of 10 yards or more to Purdue. One was a 20-yard completion to Markell Jones, who ended up fumbling on the play when Edwards caught him from behind and swiped at the ball. Jones was originally Edwards’ assignment, so not sulking and giving up on the play turned into a position for UW in the game’s only turnover.
“All week we focused on being disciplined with our eyes,” said Schobert. “Purdue’s really good with moving around and making sure you’re disciplined, and I think we were able to stay disciplined and communicate well.”
Schobert (7 tackles, 1 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 breakup), Biegel (four tackles, 1 QBH) and Chris Orr (7 tackles, 0.5 sack) continue to play strong, consistent football with few mental errors.
The final numbers say Blough threw for 136 yards on 15 of 26 passes, a decent final stat line for UW. After three quarters, UW was outstanding, so much so that Purdue only attempted six passes (completing four) for 19 yards.
UW’s four starters were good across the board but sophomore Derrick Tindal looked real impressive. He only finished with one tackle but was constantly in the mix on plays and playing aggressively. He left with an injury but doesn’t appear like it will be serious enough to make him miss time.
Rafael Gaglianone made his 29th career field goal, putting him into seventh place in school history, but the sophomore kicker continues to struggle. He’s missed at least one kick in the last five games, including a 35-yard kick at the end of the first half that was partially blocked.
“I feel like I became a better kicker than I was last year, sometimes it just doesn’t really show off for everybody,” said Gaglianone, who said numbers aren’t always the most accurate representation. “We know we’ve been working, we’ve been getting better on a weekly basis. I feel (Saturday) I was on the same tempo I had all season.”
Punter Drew Meyer was decent (33.2 average on four punts, one inside the 20, no touchbacks), and Jack Russell filled in nicely for Andrew Endicott. After Endicott injured his right leg on a kickoff that went out of bounds, Russell’s three kicks averaged 61.3 yards with one touchback.
UW’s kickoff return unit gave up a pair of returns over 18 yards but didn’t allow a return in the punt game. The Badgers didn’t return any of Purdue’s six punts and returned only one of the two kickoffs for 10 yards.