West Lafayette, Ind. - It took him a couple games to get going, but Montee Ball got back to his old self in Wisconsin's 38-14 win over Purdue Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. Behind a re-invigorated offensive line, Ball pounded Purdue's defense for 251 yards and three touchdowns on the day, including a 67-yard touchdown run at the start of the second half.
Purdue was a popular upset pick this week, and those predictions looked like they might come true as soon as the game started. The Badgers allowed a 44-yard kickoff return to Akeem Hunt to start the game, and on the next play Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush hit wide receiver Antavian Edison for a 52-yard completion to Wisconsin's one-yard line.
Purdue took the lead 38 seconds into the game on a quarterback sneak by TerBush, but that was about all the success they had against Wisconsin's defense in the game. The Boilermakers amassed just 252 total yards of offense in the game, which was dwarfed by Wisconsin's total of 645.
With the rain pouring down on the homecoming crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Badgers stuck to their ground game early and often in the first half. Ball rushed 13 times for 126 yards and a touchdown in the first half, finally displaying some of the elusiveness and power that helped him become a Heisman Trophy finalist last season.
Fellow running back James White was effective right off the bat as well. White rushed eight times for 56 yards, and helped the Badgers establish the run with a pair of first down runs in the first quarter. But Ball was the biggest story of the day, and his performance came none too soon for a team that needed him to get back to his old self.
"I needed this," Ball said after the game. I wasn't doing too well earlier on in the season, and things weren't really going my way. I'm just playing for my teammates now. I'm becoming the player they were looking for."
The Badgers also took advantage of Purdue's run defense as well. Quarterback Joel Stave completed 12-of-21 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown in the game, with the bulk of the yards coming on play-action passing. Tight end Jacob Pedersen was the biggest beneficiary- the junior caught four passes for 77 yards and scored just his second touchdown of the season.
Stave also found Brian Wozniak twice for 40 yards, and Jared Abbrederis caught four passes for 43 yards in the game. Kicker Kyle French missed two of three field goal attempts, but the Badgers took a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. It felt like a larger lead than it actually was, but Wozniak said the Badgers were still having fun on the rain-soaked grass in Ross-Ade Stadium.
"We had the best time playing today," Wozniak said after the game. "We took all the bits and pieces we've been working on, and we were able to combine them into this game. It was great."
The Badgers were quick to score on their opening drive of the second half, as Ball rushed 67 yards for his second touchdown of the game. The Boilermakers tried to mount a comeback, but the Badgers stuffed Akeem Shavers and defensive end David Gilbert sacked TerBush for 6 yards to force a Purdue punt. I
Both teams stalled on their next few drives, but the Badgers were able to put the Boilermakers away when Ball scored his third touchdown of the game early on in the fourth quarter to put the Badgers up 31-7. White then added a score of his own following a blocked Purdue punt by defensive tackle Beau Allen, which game the Badgers a 38-7 lead. The Boilermakers would score again near the end of the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late for a team that was looking for something more in Big Ten play this year.
"The result was from our team not being fundamental," Purdue head coach Danny Hope said. "We tried to tackle but we were diving at ankles."
With the win, the Badgers move to 5-2 (2-1 Big Ten), and take a commanding lead in the Leaders division race. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the post-season, many had pegged this game as a play-in game for the Big Ten Championship game in early December.
The Badgers still have work to do if they want to return to Indianapolis, but they can breathe a little easier with their tricky road game at Purdue behind them. The Badgers' path back to Indianapolis is a little easier after Saturday, but Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema wants his team to stay focused on their next game, when they'll take on their archrival Minnesota Gophers.
"The only way you get to be where you want to be is one game at a time," Bielema said. "Only way to move forward is take it one week at a time."
"We're going into another cross-division game with the Legends. It's a trophy game, a rivalry game. There's enough to play for this week."