The Wisconsin Badgers (4-4, 2-3) beat the Purdue Boilermakers by a score of 34-25 on Saturday in Madison.
No amount of disappointment in this 2022 season could keep a full crowd away from Camp Randall, where a festive Homecoming weekend ended with an impressive Badger win in sunny, unseasonably warm weather.
Eight weeks into their schedule, the Badgers finally took down a half-decent opponent and dominated Purdue for much of the game. Purdue didn’t settle in on offense until they trailed 28-3. Wisconsin, meanwhile, won on the strength of a balanced offensive performance and three takeaways.
Wisconsin received the opening kickoff and quickly took a 7-0 lead. Skyler Bell caught a 27-yard reception and, four plays later, a 29-yard touchdown. Graham Mertz’s throwing the ball with authority was a good sign to start the afternoon after his underwhelming, 131-yard effort a week ago.
Safety John Torchio jumped in front of a poor third-and-five throw on Purdue’s first possession and returned it to double Wisconsin’s lead. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell, having put together an excellent season with just five picks entering Saturday, gifted Torchio a pick-six as easy as they come.
After the Boilermakers drove down and missed a 26-yard field goal, Wisconsin responded with an eight-play scoring drive. A 41-yard Braelon Allen run set the Badgers up near the end zone. On third-and-goal from the three-yard line, Mertz scrambled right, waited for the play to develop and delivered a strike to top receiver Chimere Dike at the goal line.
Purdue got on the board with a 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
Despite leading 21-3 at halftime, Wisconsin had only outgained the Boilermakers 207 yards to 197. Time of possession actually favored Purdue, as the visitors held the ball for 17:23 compared to Wisconsin’s 12:37. Unable to finish long drives, however, Purdue went to the locker room in a sizable hole.
For Purdue, the second half began about as poorly as the first. O’Connell delivered Torchio another no-doubt interception, and Allen walked in a 14-yard touchdown two plays later.
Dean Engram muffed a punt late in the third quarter, breathing new life into an ice-cold Boilermaker offense. Tight end Payne Durham then made a one-handed snag for an eight-yard touchdown, narrowing the deficit to 28-10.
With an arm injury leaving Allen questionable to return, Isaac Guerendo entered at running back and promptly ran for a 54-yard touchdown. The senior burst through a gaping hole, maintained his balance after a missed tackle and had an uncontested dash to the end zone.
Guerendo has been curiously absent from the offensive gameplan in recent weeks. He totaled six carries in the four games leading up to Saturday and, if not for Allen’s injury, may not have gotten more than a few touches versus Purdue.
Make no mistake, Guerendo has helped Wisconsin’s offense on a weekly basis with his prowess as a kick returner. Unless he’s dealing with an undisclosed injury, there’s no reason he shouldn’t see more action in the backfield — regardless of Allen’s status going forward.
Allen returned in the fourth quarter and didn’t look limited by the injury. His availability — crucial to Wisconsin’s rest-of-season success — will be important to monitor, and the upcoming bye week will be helpful for the back who carried it 68 times over the last three games.
A questionable call brought Purdue back within 18 points early in the fourth quarter, when O’Connell led the Boilermakers down to the goal line. Three straight plays came up short, leaving Purdue with fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Jordan Turner burst across the edge and appeared to hold Devin Mockobee short. A review confirmed the initial call of a touchdown, though.
Turner looked as good as he has all season. The inside linebacker played with speed and was constantly around the football. Recording six tackles and a fourth-quarter interception, he likely verified his starting job after briefly ceding the role a few weeks ago. Turner also made this goal-line stop.
Another week, another surprise
The Badgers’ entirely unpredictable campaign rolled on with Saturday’s win, which was easily the most impressive yet for Wisconsin in 2022.
Mertz played well, especially in the first half as Wisconsin built its big lead. He completed 13 of 21 attempts for 203 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers.
Most notable was Mertz’s accuracy on the run. On the touchdown as well as another first-half connection with Dike, Mertz generated space and time outside the pocket before releasing perfectly located passes to his most productive receiver.
That he struggled against Michigan State (a bottom-tier pass defense in college football) yet succeeded against Purdue (a respectable one) is a testament to Mertz’s week-to-week inconsistencies. Saturday, at least, he was on the top of his game.
Allen, despite spending time in the locker room, had 16 carries for 113 yards and the third-quarter touchdown. His steady performance has been vital for the Badgers all season, but even more so since Chez Mellusi went down with a wrist injury.
Wisconsin’s defense was more of a mixed bag versus O’Connell’s offense. Purdue steadily accumulated 431 total yards of offense throughout the afternoon and began turning its long drives into touchdowns in the second half.
One-hundred-five of O’Connell’s 320 yards and 10 of his 31 completions were to exceptional sixth-year receiver Charlie Jones, whose massive 2022 numbers don’t do him justice.
Jones was quick, ran sharp routes and exhibited the surest hands you’ll ever see. He made one circus-like catch against airtight coverage and two more which were out of bounds. When out of other options, O’Connell sometimes just throws the ball up to Jones and if it’s anywhere near the 6’0” receiver, he’ll make a play.
Wisconsin’s secondary wasn’t great, although many of O’Connell’s yards came when the game was out of reach. The unit featured more of Alexander Smith and Justin Clark this week. They played well on the outside, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they start over Jay Shaw and Ricardo Hallman going forward.
John Torchio was the Badgers’ most outstanding defender, as he added 10 tackles and a pass breakup to his two interceptions (and one touchdown return). The picks were more a product of O’Connell’s sloppiness, but Torchio just seemed to be in the right place all afternoon.
Purdue was fairly successful running the ball, with Mockabee tallying 23 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown. It’s worth wondering why they didn’t keep it on the ground more when the game was close.
Overall, the Badgers outplayed Purdue and beat a quality opponent for the first time this season. They’ll take a 4-4 record into their bye week before returning for a Nov. 5 home matchup versus Maryland (6-2).
The bye will offer many Wisconsin players, namely Allen and various other starters, some much-needed rest — and, if you’ve been riding the wave of Wisconsin’s 2022 season, a chance to enjoy consecutive weekends.