WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.—Considering all the drama during Wisconsin's 20-17 win over Purdue, the game can be effectively boiled down to one play: Third-down-and-three.
Up 17-14 with 5:23 remaining in the game, Purdue had a chance to run out the clock on a depleted Badgers defense. After completing one third-and-two opportunity, Kyle Orton and Purdue faced a third-and-three with less than three minutes to go and a chance to put the game away for good.
However defensive back Scott Starks had other things in mind as he made the play of the season, picking up a fumble and rumbling 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Badgers their final score of the game.
"We were actually in zero coverage, with no help over the top, my man went inside and I saw the quarterback rolling," Starks said. "With the motion of his body, I knew he couldn't throw it, so I came off my man and tried to at least make a short stop and when I hit him in the legs, he kind of flipped over. The other safety, Rob Brooks came by and jarred it out. And I saw the ball just sitting there and I picked it up. Usually when that stuff happens to me, the whistle gets blown. When it happens to Jimmy [Leonhard], it's usually a touchdown. But I saw opportunity, God put me in the right place at the right time and I took it to the house."
The play was reviewed but it was clearly a fumble.
With two starting defensive linemen out with injury, the Badgers needed someone to step up on defense to help overcome a tremendous second half by Purdue. That someone was Starks, the guy that has performed consistently all season long on both defense and special teams.
"Starks, his value just on a punt—you know, you kick one down there, he's the first one able to get down there, break down and make a play. His awareness on the fumble recovery was—a lot of guys don't do that, a lot of guys jump on the ball, but he had the awareness to pick it up and go score with it," head coach Barry Alvarez said."
"He's had a tremendous year. Scott Starks has played just unbelievable football and continues to play and he's playing with a banged up shoulder. He was out for a while because he knocked his shoulder but went right back in," Alvarez added.
Despite getting burned for two costly pass interference penalties in the second half, Starks redeemed himself when his team needed it the most—just when a miracle was all that would save the Badgers.
"A lot of us on the sideline were praying for something to bounce our way and something did," Morgan Davis said.
Entering the game, the Boilermakers' offense boasted an incredible 60 percent conversion rate on third down and for the game they connected on 50 percent of their tries. However, the Badger ‘D' tightened up with the game on the line and got a play from one if its premier playmakers.
In addition to the game-winning score, Starks also intercepted his first pass of the season and returned it 16 yards to begin the second quarter. His eight solo tackles and nine total tackles led all players.
Starks steps up
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