Going into this game week, nearly every college football pundit predicted a Purdue victory. Despite getting shellacked by Michigan last weekend, 44-13, critics claimed that Purdue would show up, ready to defeat a deflated Wisconsin team. With a potential Leaders Division tie-break on the line, the winner of the game is likely to go on to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. With that type of near guarantee, the Boilermakers were expected to be ready for Bucky.
Montee Ball and the Badgers had other plans. After a huge first play from scrimmage from Purdue (52 yard pass to the Wisconsin 1 yd line) and subsequent score, Wisconsin took control. Whether it was on offense or defense, Purdue was soundly crushed in every statistical category that matters. Lets look at a few:
Wisconsin held the ball for nearly 39 minutes, to Purdue’s 21. Wisconsin had 645 yards of total offense, 467 of which came on the ground. Purdue had 252 total yards, 52 of which coming on their first play, and 81 on their last. So other than 2 plays, Purdue only had 119 total yards. Wisconsin averaged 8.2 yards per rush, Purdue had 4.6. Neither team passed much, Joel Stave throwing for 178 and the chorus of 4 Purdue signal callers combining for 124.
However, after all those great stats for Bucky, the biggest one came from Montee Ball. Montee had a career high 247 rushing yards on 29 carries (8.5 avg) and 3 touchdowns. His third score set a new career TD record for the Big Ten Conference at 72, previously held by Wisconsin legend Ron Dayne, 71. This is a remarkable achievement for Ball, even if rushing touchdowns seem so casual to him and to the fans.
Montee wasn’t the only Badger with a great day on the ground. James White had his best game of the year, bringing in 124 yards on 16 carries (7.8 avg) and a score. Even Melvin Gordon, who fumbled on his first touch, ran 7 times for 80 yards, the last carry of which could have been a TD had he kept his foot on the gas. On the receiving side, Jacob Pederson had a stellar performance with 4 catches, 77 yards and a score. Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada even threw Pederson in on a sweep rushing play that went for 10. Somewhat quiet today was Jared Abbrederis, but its mostly a result of the Badgers not needing to throw to put up points.
Purdue’s once vaunted defense was nowhere to be seen. The Badgers were able to get good penetration in the running game, even after the departure of LT Ricky Wagner. Montee and James looked sharp, Montee especially, making cuts, jukes, and spins to gain extra yards. It reminded me of the Montee Ball of old, and gives me great hope for the rest of the season.
On the defensive side of the ball for Bucky, the Badgers simply dominated. There were only the two big plays, one at the start and one at the end, which looked bad. Everything else was stellar. QB pressure/sacks (there were 5), containment on the outside, and man-to-man coverage were all solid. Granted, the Purdue QBs were anything but sharp, but how could they be with the likes of Chris Borland and Mike Taylor bearing down on them seemingly ever play. The tandem was simply menacing, creating havoc in the Purdue backfield. NFL scouts should take notice.
There were times when I even pitied Purdue fans for the frustration they must have felt – their team started the season so well on offense, using speed and creativity in their play calling. They nearly beat Notre Dame earlier in the year, only losing by a trio of points. And now after getting crushed in back to back weeks, their Big Ten Leaders Division title chances have all but slipped away.
As for Wisconsin, this team is gelling together very nicely as the season moves on. We saw it at Nebraska, during the second half against Illinois, and today against Purdue - on the road in a significant game, it all came together. I feel good about this team moving forward, as well as confident that Montee Ball can and will reach the 8 touchdowns he needs to set the NCAA all-time record for career touchdowns.
Next week comes da Gophers, who Bucky has beaten since 2004. Paul Bunyan’s Axe will be on the line in the longest running rivalry game in college football.