It is no secret that the Wisconsin football team prefers to play its games in Madison. But after Saturday’s 62-17 victory over Purdue (2-3 Big Ten 4-5 overall), a victory that came on the heels of two-consecutive losses on the road, it is clear that the Badgers (2-2. 7-2) are a different team inside the confines of Camp Randall Stadium.
While senior quarterback Russell Wilson was again the focal point of the offense early on, Saturday’s outburst was largely courtesy of junior running back Montee Ball. Ball finished the game with 223 yards on 20 carries, scoring three touchdowns in the process to tie him with Brian Calhoun for the school record of 24 touchdowns for the year.
“Montee Ball ran awesome, he always does,” sophomore guard Travis Frederick said. “That’s something we love about him. He’s always running up and down the field.”
“Montee did a great job,” junior center Peter Konz added. “As much as it is up blocking up front, the rest of it is [Ball]. He did phenomenal in breaking tackles and running hard and pushing for the goal line, it’s all on him.”
Though the final score was lopsided, the Badgers once again left gaping holes in the kick coverage and blew several pass coverages in the secondary. Purdue got their first two scores of the game courtesy of 44 and 66-yard returns by freshman Raheem Mostert, setting the Boilermakers up inside Badger territory twice in the opening quarter.
“Kind of like the last kick a week ago, missed tackles kill you. You just cant have missed tackles on kick coverage,” head coach Bret Bielema said of the kick coverage. “We’re going to have to: A., evaluate personnel, and, B. what we’re doing with our alignments and our coverage rules.”
Purdue initially got into a 7-7 tie on a 30-yard pass from junior quarterback Caleb TerBush to junior tight end Crosby Wright, who was wide open thanks to miscommunication once again within the Wisconsin secondary.
“There was a bust in the coverage, [UW safety] Shelton [Johnson] knew it right away,” Bielema said. “The great news is he had a good look in his eye on the way back.”
What definitely came through on Saturday was Wisconsin’s ability to run the ball down the throat of opposing defenses, something that the Badgers have not really emphasized in their play calling since the two-game losing streak began. The three-headed monster of Ball, Wilson and sophomore running back James White as threats on the ground kept the Boilermaker defense off balance all afternoon, as the Badgers racked up 425 yards of total offense in the first half alone and finished the game with 605 yards of production, a far cry from the totals UW has managed over the past two weeks.
But while the offense was the focus of the postgame attention, the defense stepped up at key moments throughout the game. With UW leading 14-7, senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus made a crucial open-field tackle on third-and-goal that forced Purdue into a field goal and maintained the Badger lead. And after having gone two weeks without an interception, the turnover machine got going once again, thanks to interceptions from linebackers junior Mike Taylor and sophomore Chris Borland. Both turnovers led to Badger touchdowns, playing a large part in what ultimately became a very lopsided final score.
“Turnovers are huge,” Borland said after the game. “Anytime you can get our offense the ball back the way they were playing today, that’s huge.”