Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton was flawless early in his team's 26-23 win over Wisconsin. Orton led the Boilermakers to touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, completing all 11 of his passes. He was well on his way to a third straight scoring drive when Alex Lewis got in the way.
Facing a third-and-13 at the Wisconsin 37-yard line, Orton stepped back to pass having completed 18 of 20 throws for 156 yards. Lewis, though, blew past Purdue left tackle Mike Otto, hitting Orton from the blindside in the midst of his throwing motion. The ball, ruled a fumble, drifted into the air a short distance from Orton, where Wisconsin linebacker Jeff Mack plucked it and sprinted 55 yards for the first touchdown of his career. The Badgers missed the ensuing extra point, but closed to within 14-13.
Just as important, though, Wisconsin's defense had finally made a stop. The play kicked off a nine-and-a-half minute stretch where Lewis recorded four of his game and career-high five sacks, slowing down a Purdue offensive attack that had been on cruise control.
"I thought Alex was outstanding," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "We used him to spell some of our defensive line. He kept pressure on the quarterback all day."
Lewis, Wisconsin's eagle linebacker, often played rush end when the Badgers employed their nickel defense. Wisconsin used Lewis often in this fashion in the season-opener against West Virginia, but he had played end only sporadically since.
Lewis' play, though, was only part of the pass rush story. The Badgers and Boilermakers each finished with seven sacks, with Shaun Phillips contributing 3.5 for Purdue. Entering this game Purdue had recorded just 12 sacks, Wisconsin 16. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, had allowed just seven sacks all year. The Badgers have now allowed 25, with 15 coming in losses to UNLV and Purdue.
Purdue's pass rush kept the Badgers from finding any rhythm offensively or from sustaining drives. As a result, the Boilermakers controlled the ball for 13 more minutes than Wisconsin.
On the first play of the game, Purdue defensive tackle Craig Terrill hit Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi as he threw. The resulting pass, intended for Lee Evans, was too short and drifted to the inside, making for an easy interception for cornerback Jacques Reeves.
Lewis' second sack helped Wisconsin quickly regain possession following Mack's improbable touchdown with good field position at its 48. Phillips, though, made sure the drive was short lived, sacking Sorgi on both second and third down, driving the Badgers back to the 38.
"They have some really athletic defensive ends and everybody runs well," said Wisconsin reserve quarterback Matt Schabert, who entered the game when Sorgi went down with an injury in the third quarter. "They are playing in the Big Ten so obviously they are hard-nosed."
Lewis garnered his third and fourth sacks of the second quarter on Purdue's next possession, the latter coming on a third-and-one play from Wisconsin's 16.
Lewis' fifth sack of the game came in the fourth quarter, helping to force the punt that Jim Leonhard returned 63 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
"Alex is a good player," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "He shows up every week. He's going to be a full speed guy all the time and he loves the game, loves to compete. I was proud with the way he played today."