Defense stands tall

Badgers create five turnovers in 31-20 home win over Purdue

After the past few weekends, the Badger defense had taken its fair share of criticism, but that all changed Saturday as the group snagged five turnovers and scored two touchdowns, leading the University of Wisconsin football team to a 31-20 win over Purdue at Camp Randall Stadium.

With six-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter, the Boilermakers had a chance to go up by 10 points and put a stranglehold on the game's momentum. Wide receiver Brian Hare had UW cornerback Brett Bell beat deep down the sideline and quarterback Curtis Painter's throw was catch-able, but Hare bobbled it and let a sure touchdown hit the turf.

Four plays later, Wisconsin safety Roderick Rogers intercepted a Painter pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown, giving the Badgers a 17-13 lead and all the momentum they needed.

"It helped the morale as a defense. I think, after that one turnover, you could see the defense start to pick it up," Rogers said.

"We always talk about being a spark and swinging the momentum of the game, and that's one of them," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "No question that swung the game."

After the teams traded 10 points in the first two quarters, the Wisconsin defense went into the locker room, made a few adjustments, and came back out looking to make a difference.

"We knew there were some things we could change defensively," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They took it all in and adjusted well and really responded well in the second half."

The UW defense responded in a big way, nabbing four takeaways in the second half alone and scoring as many touchdowns as its offense.

Purdue got the ball to start the second half, but would not hang onto it for long. Badger freshman cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu picked Painter off on just the second play of the half.

"I just read the quarterback's eyes," Ikegwuonu said. "He was looking right at [the wide receiver]. I just sat there and he threw it right to me."

Wisconsin could not capitalize, however, as kicker Taylor Mehlhaff came up short on a 50-yard field goal.

Purdue kicker Ben Jones converted on his own 50-yard attempt on the ensuing possession, and when the Badger offense went three-and-out, it looked like the Boilermakers might steal the energy.

They had their chance on the deep ball, but could not convert. Rogers' interception changed everything — although not quite in the blink of an eye — as he cut back twice while picking up some blocks on his 84-yard scamper to pay dirt.

"All week we [were] fed up with all the comments we were getting from the media and the paper and everyone else saying we weren't a good defense," Rogers said. "But we know that deep down, if we just come out and play how we want to play, we'll be a good defense [like we were today]."

The Badger defense forced a three-and-out and the offense then drove 63 yards on three plays — capped off by running back Brian Calhoun's second receiving touchdown of the day — increasing the lead to 24-13.

With less than 3:30 left in the game, Ikegwuonu got his second interception and brought it back 62 yards for a touchdown of his own to solidify the win.

Purdue finally found the end zone again, but not until there were just three seconds showing on the clock. The Badgers won their 11th straight home game, a record in the modern era.

Fans and analysts had been critical of the Badger defense, which had given up 85 points in the previous two games. They still gave up the yards — 428 to be exact — but Bielema's group made the big plays, and even put up some points.

"We hadn't scored any points on defense all year and we were able to do that, what else more can give you confidence?" said Bell, one of the team's captains.

The five forced turnovers were the most by Wisconsin since November 2002, and all of Saturday's work was done with an injury-impaired defensive line that had two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup.

"Some of our defensive linemen hadn't practiced all week, and yet some of them played," Alvarez said. "With a patched up outfit, I was very pleased with how they played. They responded today very well."

The Badger offense did not put up the numbers it had seen in recent weeks, but got the job done with a little help from the defense.

Calhoun was limited to just 62 yards on the ground — enough to become UW's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 — but also led the team with five catches for 78 yards and both offensive touchdowns.

But it was Rogers, Ikegwuonu and the UW defense that stole the show.

Ikegwuonu notched his second and third picks of the year and the first touchdown of his career. The Madison native also tallied six tackles, including one for loss, in a breakout game.

"I think [one game] is all it really takes to build up confidence," Ikegwuonu said. "I know that I can play at this level. Both games that I've had interceptions I've actually told my teammates that I was going to get them, so I guess I just need to keep doing that."

Rogers, who had been progressing well as of late, took another big step in the right direction with his game-changing play. The junior had four tackles and three hard-hitting pass breakups as well.

"Roderick has been taking baby steps," Bielema said. "There are certain plays that he makes in the course of the game, but he hadn't sustained something for four quarters. That was one of our team goals … and I think we did it today."

"Roderick and Jack made some huge plays for us today," safety Joe Stellmacher said. "You could see the confidence in our defense. We were playing with a lot of emotion. You could just feel the confidence growing."

Coming in, very few people thought the Badgers would ride their defense to victory against Purdue. Then again… just as many figured that Wisconsin would be 7-1 overall, 4-1 in conference play, and vying for a Big Ten title at this point in the season.

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