This was not a statement win.
A 31-point victory over Nebraska is a statement win, a proclamation of power or position or superiority at a given moment. Pounding a mediocre team into the turf does not tell the world much it does not already know about the Wisconsin football team.
This was a bloodletting, an opportunity to put two excruciating weeks to bed, buried beneath piles and piles of points.
Sixty-two of them, all told.
“We needed a win, not necessarily a blowout win,” sophomore offensive lineman Travis Frederick said.
Still, a blowout it was. Wisconsin rolled up 38 points and 425 yards of offense in the first half and finished the night with six rushing touchdowns and a 62-17 win over Purdue. Junior running back Montee Ball put together the best game of his career, carrying 20 times for 223 yards and three more scores. He now sits at 24 total touchdowns on the season (21 rushing), tied for the single season school record, set in 2005 by Brian Calhoun.
“He’s wired in a way right now where he expects success on every play and he’s extremely physical,” Bielema said.
Ball set the tone from the first play, when he ripped off a 44-yard run off the right side.
“When he’s hitting the hole like that, guys are going to have to pursue a little faster,” Frederick said. “And when they pursue faster it just opens up bigger holes on the outside.”
As the offense hummed, special teams continued to struggle. The Boilermakers ripped off kick returns of 49 and 74 yards on their first two attempts.
“We’ll have to evaluate our personnel and also what we do with our alignments and our coverage rules,” Bielema said.
The longer of the two set Purdue up in the red zone, but senior cornerback Antonio Fenelus made an outstanding open-field tackle and the Boilermakers settled for a field goal that made it 14-10 at the time.
As concerning as special teams is for the Badgers, an ankle injury to senior free safety Aaron Henry threatened to make things worse. However, Bielema said x-rays showed no breaks and that Henry wanted to be ready to go this week.
“When you lose a player at one position, it’s a domino effect on how it affects your special teams, how it affects your sub-packages,” Bielema said. “It really, really gets difficult as the season goes on.”
Down a playmaker in the secondary, UW got interceptions from its two top linebackers, sophomore Chris Borland (11 tackles) and junior Mike Taylor (nine). Taylor tracked down a tipped ball and Borland’s came deep in Purdue territory and set up a 5-yard touchdown run from sophomore James White on the next play.
“I gave [Borland] some heat because he couldn’t get in the end zone,” Bielema said with a smile after the game.
Along with a tangible reminder of their offensive explosiveness, the Badgers also held serve in a wild Big Ten race. They still need help in the form of losses by Ohio State and Penn State, but on a weekend full of unpredictability, staying in the race was enough.
“In the Big Ten, anybody can get anybody on any given Saturday,” Bielema said.
With three regular season games remaining on the schedule, a third loss essentially ends all hope.
“Every game from here on out is a championship game for us,” Ball said.
The Badgers’ one-day-at-a-time mantra will continue on that three-week quest, but putting such a giant clot in what had become a leaky vessel brings at least momentary comfort.
“The more I’m in this business, the more I realize that when things start to go against you, how hard it is to bring it back,” Bielema said. “It’s good to be back on track.”