Picture this scene. Fewer than three minutes left in a game tied at 23 points apiece, and everything is on the line with the opponents' final offensive drive. Many things could result from this: a chance at overtime, the opponent's offense connecting for the victory, or a miracle interception and score for the defense. Unfortunately for the Badgers on Saturday, the brutal Boilermaker offense got the best of them on their final drive.
In final 2:55 Purdue junior quarterback Kyle Orton used his versatile receiving corps, primarily senior John Standeford and junior Taylor Stubblefield to advance the ball up the field. It was sophomore Ray Williams, however, who broke the Badgers' backs with a 36-yard catch, which put the ball at Wisconsin's three-yard line.
"The big play at the end there that was huge," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "A kid makes a good throw and a great catch and that was the football game. That's what it came down to, but we did a lot of good things, just didn't do enough good things to come on top."
Purdue then ran the ball three consecutive times, failing to reach the end zone, but reducing the clock to just eight seconds. On fourth down from inside the one-yard line, sophomore Ben Jones nailed an 18-yard kick to give Purdue a 26-23 lead with just three seconds remaining.
"I took my hat off to Purdue," senior wide receiver Lee Evans said. "Their offense played well the whole game, and they made plays when they had to. They kept us off the field and went down and kicked a field goal. It was a tough defeat. Both teams played hard. Both teams competed very well and in the end they came out with the victory."
Though the Badger defense had no answers for the Boilermaker offense on this final drive, they were able to contain them for the most part in the second half. Part of this was due to Orton's sudden inconsistency with the pass. He had 13 incomplete passes during the second half and was sacked three times. The only way the Boilermakers could get on the board was with Jones' field goals.
"You have to give credit to our defense," junior quarterback Matt Schabert said. "They made some great plays and held (Purdue) to field goals several times and made a lot of defensive stands on the goal line. That is the kind of team this is. If someone is not playing real well, someone else picks up the slack."
"We felt that we had to play a little bit more aggressive on them," defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "If you look at the first quarter we were playing soft and the rest of the game we started playing hard ball, and some more man coverage and the results were better."
Mack and Lewis actually made an impact on the scoreboard in the first half when Lewis recorded his first of five sacks, forcing a fumbled that Mack recovered for a 55-yard touchdown. This was Mack's first fumble recovery during his four years at Wisconsin.
"Jeff made a lot of plays, just got people lined up," Alvarez said. "Jeff is invaluable out there. We had some guys really play well on defense, it's a shame it didn't come up with enough plays."
Though Mack and Lewis had stellar games it was not enough to stop Purdue's offense early in the game. Purdue scored on its first two possessions, the first coming earlier than expected as Badger quarterback Jim Sorgi threw an interception during the game's opening play.
Boilermaker sophomore Jerod Void scored from two yards out, giving Purdue a 7-0 lead. In seven games this season, Purdue has scored on its opening drive all seven times, only once being held to a field goal. During the opening drive Saturday, Orton completed three passes to Stubblefield and two to Standeford for a total of 56 yards.
Again, another Sorgi turnover aided in the second touchdown scored by the Boilermakers. Their second drive brought about a little more rushing from Void, but yet again quick firing from Orton to his receivers. To go up 14-0, Orton connected to Stubblefield for a six-yard touchdown.
"He's a real good quarterback," junior defensive back Scott Starks said. "You can see he's good on his feet also when he has to scramble and he also puts the ball right where it needs to be, he made the right checks. He's going to be a great quarterback."
"It's a disheartening defeat," Mack said. "We played a good team, you try to perform to the best of your abilities and we just didn't execute some things. That's just how it goes, they make a good fourth quarter (drive) with three minutes left, and we just couldn't pull through."