No. 21 Wisconsin (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) came out on top 24-3 in a gritty road victory against Purdue (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten). The Boilermakers' Painter, who came into the game as the nation's third-leading passer with 2,218 yards, became just another victim of Bret Bielema's stingy UW pass defense. Painter failed to find any sort of rhythm during the game, completing 20 of 40 passes for 187 yards.
"I really thought the DBs took it as a personal challenge this week to step up," said Bielema, who praised defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks and the other defensive coaches for their planning for Purdue. "They knew they had a [great] passing offense and they were going to try and come away with some plays out there."
UW tailback P.J. Hill was a major factor again in his redshirt freshman season, staking the Badgers to the win with a pair of touchdowns.
Hill continued his bruising ways, scoring on runs of 1 and 3 yards, each capping drives of at least 80 yards. Hill finished the afternoon with 166 yards on 29 carries and now has scored 13 touchdowns on the ground in 2006.
"As a back, you have to be patient, you can't just go in there and just hit a hole," Hill said of struggling to move the ball in the early goings of the game. "I knew the big runs would just come later in the game."
"It's a P.J. Hill game," Bielema said when asked if his running back played a ‘Ron Dayne-style game' to draw comparisons to the former Badger and Heisman winner. "He's a guy that has got ability and got a lot of things that make him who he is, I think he understands and know what his strengths are as well as his weaknesses."
Purdue's defense – worst in the Big Ten in scoring and total yards allowed – held the blazingly-hot Badger offense in check, at the start. But Hill's two scores came off of two long drives led by quarterback John Stocco, who orchestrated drives of 89, 80, and 85 yards. UW's offense, which averaged 47 points and 489 yards per game in the past three contests, finished with 442 total offensive yards.
Stocco won his 26th game for Wisconsin as a starter, throwing for 201 yards on 13-of-21 passing while failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 16 games.
Hill helped put away the game by springing for his longest run of the game, a 46-yarder, with six minutes remaining in the game. This set up a nine-yard touchdown run for true freshman Lance Smith, giving the Badgers the 24-3 advantage.
Late in the third quarter, Zach Hampton's punt return troubles continued, as what appeared to be a dead punt at UW's 8-yard-line turned into a risky adventure for the Badgers. Hampton attempted to pick up the ball and run with it, but fumbled in a sea of Boilermakers, and UW's Ben Strickland recovered to save the Badgers from potentially giving up a free touchdown.
"I saw the ball was on the ground, so I just let it go because I thought they were just going to pick it up, and then I saw Zach's going to go make a play, and then I was about to go block, so the ball came out, and I just jumped on it," Strickland said. "There was a guy right there that he didn't see, so…we kind of got lucky on that."
Hampton did redeem himself early in the fourth quarter with a 22-yard return out to Wisconsin's 45-yard-line.
Also in the fourth quarter, the Badgers attempted a fake punt, and Ken DeBauche put a perfect pass on to Jonathan Casillas. But Casillas, who was wide open with 15 yards to go for the score, dropped the ball, turning it over to the Boilermakers near midfield.
"I was waiting for that play all year…we finally had a good opportunity to do it when we needed it in a game," DeBauche said. "I think it was a good pass, I thought it was right there and Jon just happened to drop it.
"I think he could have called a fair catch on it," DeBauche joked.
The Badgers held the early advantage with a 10-3 lead at the half. Each team's passing offense was sluggish early, with the first completion for positive yardage coming with 6:00 left in the first stanza.
But an 18-yard completion by Painter to Jaycen Taylor followed immediately by a 21-yard throw to Greg Orton. The two long gains set up a 47-yard field goal, a career long for Boilermakers kicker Chris Summers and the only score of the first quarter.
But the Badgers stormed back, putting together an 11-play, 89-yard drive capped by a Hill goal-line plunge into the end zone, getting Wisconsin's first lead at 7-3. Stocco went 3-for-3 with 63 yards through the air on the long drive.
Not to be outdone by Summers, Badgers kicker Taylor Mehlhaff also knocked in his career-best field goal, with a 51-yard effort at the 1:15 mark in the second quarter. Mehlhaff's lone three-pointer of the game bested his previous longest FG of 46 yards.
"I had a few attempts over last year and one this year, they said I couldn't quite sneak one in, it felt good to finally break that barrier," Mehlhaff of hitting his first field goal of over 50 yards. "I know I can make field goals back there, it's a matter of doing it in the game."
In the closing seconds of the first half, the Badgers lost a chance to give Mehlhaff another shot to add to Wisconsin's lead when Stocco fumbled the snap in an attempt to spike the ball and stop the clock. The teams went into the locker rooms at 10-3 in favor of UW before the Badgers put together a touchdown in each of the last two quarters to seal the victory.