BY JEFF BERNIER
With Wisconsin fighting for its Bowl aspirations, they took another step in the right direction Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison as the Badgers (5-2) defeated the Boilermakers (1-6) of Purdue 24-7. The offense made enough plays and the Badgers defense, which has been dominant for long stretches this season, was brilliant again on this day.
The Badgers received the game’s opening kickoff and immediately went to work against a struggling Boilermakers’ defense. Senior quarterback Joel Stave and junior tailback Dare Ogunbowale were sharp as the Badgers marched right down the field for the game’s first touchdown. Stave was perfect on the drive while Ogunbowale had several effective runs.
True freshman Alec Ingold, a linebacker by trade who has emerged as a new weapon for Wisconsin in the run game, capped the opening drive with a four yard rush for a touchdown.
The effectiveness and balance of the Badgers opening drive had a feeling of blowout home win being imminent. Especially, after Purdue went three and out on their subsequent opening drive. But not so fast …
The Badgers were once again marching on their second drive. Stave continued his brilliance, making quick reads and firing passes that were right on the money. The senior started the game a perfect six for six for 68 yards.
Facing a third down and 8 from the Purdue 11 yard line, Ogunbowale was flagged for a false start, moving the team back to a more complicated try of 3rd and 13. Stave dropped back and could not get his footing with the pass rush closing in and tried to zip a pass across the field that sailed on Stave right into the waiting arms of Purdue defensive back LeRoy Clark.
Clark, who recently accepted a position move to safety, returned the Stave pick 66 yards to the Wisconsin 29 yard line, breaking several tackles along the way. It was Stave’s only real hiccup in the game.
Purdue, finding themselves with excellent field position, seized the moment. Purdue, wanting to make a statement, chose to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Badgers 20. Freshman tailback Markell Jones was able to convert. Freshman quarterback David Blough capped the drive with an untouched 2 yard touchdown scramble.
The Badgers missed a golden opportunity to extend the lead just before half, as struggling sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglionone missed from 35 yards out. Gaglionone had hit from 28 earlier in the half, as the Badgers lead just 10-7 going into intermission.
Strangely, the Badgers did not punt in the first half, and they outgained the Boilermakers 272 yards to 61. Despite the lopsidedness, Wisconsin only able to build just that three point lead.
Purdue had first crack in the second half. The Badgers, who presumably got a verbal lashing from their head coach Paul Chryst, came out strong, forcing a three and out.
What followed were two Badgers punts and two more Boilermakers punts. On Purdue’s third punt of the second half, the Badgers finally gave the Camp Randall sellout crowd reason to “jump around.”
Purdue punter Joe Schopper shanked a miserable punt that netted just 27 yards as Wisconsin took over at the Purdue 33 yard line. The generous field position was all the Badgers needed to get going.
Stave continued his fantastic accuracy with passes of 7, 4, and 19 yards setting up a first and goal at the Purdue four yard line. From there, Ogunbowale pounded it in, giving the Badgers some much needed breathing room at 17-7.
Wisconsin would put the game out of reach after they got the ball right back following yet another Purdue punt.
Stave was at his best here on the Badgers final scoring drive on the day. He carved up a worn-out Boilermakers’ defense, going 7 for 7 for 56 yards. For the second time Saturday, Ingold ran the ball in for the score, this time from 1 yard out making it 24-7.
Stave, despite the near pick-six in the first half, had a very quiet, yet stellar effort for the Badgers as the senior finished 30 of 39 for 322 yards. Stave nickel and dimed his way to his second consecutive 300 yard day as he and the Badgers longest pass play on the day was just 14 yards.
It marked the first time a Wisconsin quarterback had back-to-back 300 yard performances since former Badgers quarterback and Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson did so in 2011.
Senior #1 wide-out Alex Erickson continued his sparkling final season in Madison, finishing with nine receptions for 86 yards, which both lead the team.
Junior Robert Wheelwright had 6 catches for 61 yards for Wisconsin.
The Badgers did just enough on the ground to keep the Boilermakers defense honest for Stave. Wisconsin ran the ball 37 times for just 96 yards, a 2.8 per average.
Redshirt freshman inside linebacker T.J. Edwards was a man possessed for the Badgers, leading a total defensive effort. Edwards was outstanding, racking up 16 tackles, including a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss.
The Badgers defense held another opponent under 100 yards on the ground as the Boilermakers ran for only 55 yards. Purdue was unable to break one single big play, finishing with just 191 yards of total offense.
Wisconsin finished the game with a healthy 418 yards of total offense, while also winning time of possession 37:46 to 22:09.
The Badgers, who hit on their goal of improving on their third down conversion rate Saturday (50%), will have to clean up the penalties next week against a much more capable opponent.
Wisconsin will face a big road test next Saturday when they travel to Champagne, Illinois to take on a talented Fighting Illini (4-2) squad fresh off their bye week. The game will kick off at 2:30 pm (Central Standard).