WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.—Wisconsin's fearsome front four was dominant early in its 20-17 win at Purdue. By game's end, however, the team was scrapping together any assortment of players it could come up with.
The headliner—as he has been all season—was end Erasmus James, who was flat unblockable. With Purdue in Wisconsin territory early in the second quarter, James hit Boilermaker quarterback Kyle Orton's arm as he threw, forcing a short, lofted pass that corner Scott Starks intercepted.
A 64-yard kickoff return following the Badgers' second-quarter touchdown gave Purdue excellent field position at the UW 32, but on the first play of the ensuing drive, James sacked Orton and knocked the ball free. End Jamal Cooper recovered, silencing Purdue's threat.
James also assisted on another sack and forced two holding calls in the first half.
A third-quarter chop-block, however, ended his evening prematurely.
"I'm not happy about the way that it happened," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "There's certain things that happen on the football field that I don't think have a place in college football. We were aware of the chop blocks, we made a point of it, we sent in tapes, talked to the Big Ten officials. The only thing that really irritated me was after it happened I saw some people cheering….I saw some people celebrating what I didn't think was a great situation."
Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez was more diplomatic.
"I'll have to review that. I will take a look at that," he said.
James was far from the only defensive lineman to suffer an injury Saturday. End Jonathan Welsh was hurt in the second quarter when he and James met at the quarterback for a sack. Welsh's leg bent back beneath his body as he fell to the turf, injuring his ankle. Tackles Anttaj Hawthorne (upper calf) and Jason Jefferson (leg) also were dinged up Saturday but each returned to the field after a few plays away.
The injuries to Welsh and James, though, forced Wisconsin to juggle its lineup and allowed Purdue to get into a rhythm offensively.
With Welsh and James leading the way, the Badgers' defense was highly disruptive in the first half, shutting out one of the nation's top offenses. Without them, though, Wisconsin's pass rush faltered and Orton started moving the chains for Purdue.
"I don't know if there is anyone playing as good as ‘Ras,'" Alvarez said. "You could see [Orton] had a lot more time to throw the football. It was a different ball game for us in the second half."
The Badgers essentially cleaned out the cupboard, playing reserves Cooper, Joe Monty, Mark Gorman and Brandon Kelly at end and rotating reserve tackles Kalvin Barrett and Justin Ostrowski into the mix. Starting sam linebacker Mark Zalewski also lined up at end.
Despite the injuries, Wisconsin's front still made some plays down the stretch, putting pressure on Orton, particularly on the Boilermakers' final drive.
"We were about ready to go with some other guys just to get them to line up," Bielema said. "We were running out of bodies….Some guys stepped up to the challenge and did a great job."
Following the game, Welsh was wearing a walking boot, while James appeared to be walking without aid or obvious discomfort.
James' injury draws Wisconsin's ire
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