It was a good day for Scott Tolzien to get back on the winning track. After all, he hardly did anything, throwing a season-low 13 passes for only 87 yards. When your running game is averaging five yards per rush (53-266), there's no reason to throw the football.
Unlike two weeks ago when it ruined momentum, the Badgers put in freshman Curt Phillips midway through the third quarter with Wisconsin winning 34-0. Phillips performed OK, completing 3-of-6 passes for 28 yards and committed UW's only turnover on an interception.
UW's 115 passing yards were the fewest in a win since the Badgers passed for 75 against Akron in the 2008 opener.
Only at UW could a tight end almost be a 100-yard rusher. Lance Kendricks proved that the Badgers have that ability, running four end-arounds for 91 yards, including a 21-yard scamper on the game's first play and a 54-yard sprint down the Purdue sideline that set up another score.
The runs were the first of Kendricks career, who finished with 112 all-purpose yards (91 rushing, 21 receiving).
"I was trying to beat out (John) Clay," said Kendricks, who finished 32 yards behind the sophomore. "We had a competition going."
Clay got back on track, rushing for 123 on 24 carries (5.1 average) and scored three touchdowns, two on a one-yard rush and the other on recovering his own fumble in the end zone. His three scores tied his career high and he cracked the 100-yard plateau for the fourth time this season.
"It was very important to establish the running game," Clay said. "We saw some stuff on film and we just took the most of our opportunities when we got the ball. Once we started rolling, our offense is very hard to stop."
Nine different Badgers ran the ball Saturday, and the momentum was starting from the minute Purdue deferred to the second half.
UW took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 11 running plays for a 7-0 lead that took five minutes, 23 seconds off the play clock.
"That was a great tone-setter," junior guard John Moffitt said. "That was something we wanted as an O-line and something we needed. I think it really established for the game the kind of football we like to play."
Nick Toon made the catch of the day on his diving 37-yard reception in the third quarter, a career long. Freshman Kraig Appleton finally got on the board with a six-yard reception from Phillips. The duo connected later on for a nine-yard gain, something Badgers fans hope will be a dominant connection in the future.
Ohio State's defensive line outplayed Wisconsin's offensive line and the Buckeyes beat UW three weeks ago. Iowa's defensive line got off to a slow start but eventually dominated the UW front line in a come-from-behind victory. With position coach Bob Bostad not pleased, the Badgers rebounded, to a degree.
Going against a starting front that combined for 13½ sacks and 28½ tackles for loss, the Badgers linemen only gave up three sacks, including 1.5 sacks to defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who entered the game as one of the best rushes in the Big Ten with 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
"It was good, but I think it could have been better," said Moffitt, as the Badgers also gave up eight TFLs. "I think we gave up a little too much in the sack department, and maybe we could have put up more rushing yards. It was a good performance, but I think it needs to be cleaned up."
But for the amount of times UW ran the ball, the Badgers can't complain, as UW rushed for at least 200 yards for the third time this season.
"I think it was reflected in the way we practiced," Moffitt said. "We wanted to line up and pound the ball like we always do."
After allowing Iowa to smoke them on third down, the Badgers limited Purdue to 2-of-16 on the critical down, thanks in large part to UW's dominance up front. Purdue was held to a season-low 141 total yards and eight first downs.
O'Brien Schofield said during the week that Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott's quick release would make it hard for UW to get sacks this week. UW still got three of them, one by Dan Moore, Culmer St. Jean and Jeff Stehle.
"It's the most exciting thing you ca do as a defense, pitching a shutout is what we strive for every week," J.J. Watt said. "This week, it worked out and it was fun for us to play out there."
Senior Jae McFadden, one of only four players that played against Purdue in 2006, led the Badgers with nine tackles (five solos), but Chris Borland stole the show. In his first career start, Borland showed registering four tackles, forcing a fumble on freshman Gary Bush and recovering it, setting up a UW field goal and another fumble recovery to end the game.
"The kid is unbelievable," Bielema said. "The offensive coaches want him at fullback, I want him on every special teams and (defensive coordinator) Dave (Doeren) wants him on every play."
St. Jean was also active for the Badgers, registering four tackles and a sack. UW held Purdue to just 151 yards of total offense, the lowest number since limiting to Northern Illinois to 99 on Oct. 20, 2007.
They responded to the challenge, as they both registered four tackles and Smith notched an interception and a pass breakup.
"We did not play very well as a secondary against Iowa, so we were really focusing on challenging every route and just gaining respect because no one really believed in us" said Smith, who also appeared to force a fumble in the first quarter until it was overturned by video replay. "Focusing on tight coverage, reading keys and basically just having great fundamentals."
UW held Purdue, who entered the day third in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally in passing at 254.6 yards per game, to nine completions in 33 attempts (27.2 percent) and a season-low 81 passing yards.
Cooks stayed with Brinkley and Smith, meaning Antonio Fenelus, who had two major blown coverages in the last two weeks, only played on third down and Aaron Henry was on special teams, scoring a touchdown.
After recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown against Wofford, David Gilbert decided to create the trouble this time around.
Celebrating his 18th birthday and having his parents and younger brother in the stands after making the trip up from Florida, the freshman made a spectacular punt block that led to Henry's touchdown.
Gilbert went up and over a three-man wedge to block the punt, doing a somersault for good measure.
"He asked me right before that play, ‘Coach, can I jump it?' and I said, ‘Absolutely,'" Bielema said. "Unbelievable play."
Henry scooped up the loose ball at the 9-yard line and took it in for a touchdown that gave the Badgers a 24-0 lead with 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining until halftime.
"His nickname around the locker room is ‘Dwight Howard,'" said Henry, referring to the all-star forward for the Orlando Magic. "The kid has ability out of this world. (He has) muscles on him that I've never seen on a normal human being. I know his future is very, very bright."
Sophomore kick Philip Welch rebounded from a couple dismal kicking weeks to make all three of his field goal attempts, from 22, 32 and 42 yards, on an extremely windy day.
"I felt pretty good," said Welch. "I had a problem with my groin earlier in the week but I felt 100 percent today."
Brad Nortman was good on his punts, averaging 36 yards on six kicks, and the kickoff coverage was OK, but the tackling improved. Bielema's big decision to let Isaac Anderson and possibly Nick Toon return kicks was a moot point, especially since the Badgers didn't have a kickoff return. That didn't stop junior David Gilreath from making another blunder, this time fielding a Purdue punt on UW's own five-yard line, an inexcusable decision.