Pound the rock — those three words were the expected game plan for the No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday against a Purdue defense that wasn’t exactly good at much. That’s far from what happened though, as the Badgers found a passing game and Gordon also went wild as UW (7-2, 4-1 B1G) took care of the Boilermakers (3-7, 1-5 B1G), 34-16.
It was the ninth-straight win over Purdue for the Badgers, and sixth consecutive win in West Lafayette, Ind.
Wisconsin was expected to come out pounding the ball with Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement, but offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig had other ideas. To his credit, it worked in the first half, as quarterback Joel Stave was the centerpiece of Wisconsin’s offensive effort.
He went 15 of 20 for 190 yards and two passing touchdowns in the first half, including an incredible 27-yard pass and hurdle by running back Melvin Gordon.
The Heisman hopeful not only had that highlight reel grab, but also made his name on the ground in the game. He ran for 205 yards on 25 carries and had one touchdown on the ground to go with his two catches for 38 yards and first half TD reception.
It was good thing Gordon was able to get going and carry the load for UW, as Stave struggled throughout the second half. He hit just 4 of 9 passes for 29 yards while also throwing his first interception of the season.
With a lack of rhythm early on in the second half, the Badgers allowed Purdue back in to the contest. Gordon fumbled attempting to reach for a first down on a 3rd-and-7 play, with Purdue safety Landon Feichter creating and recovering his own fumble.
However, Wisconsin’s defense proved up to the task on the drive and the day. After turning the ball over at its own 35-yard line, the Wisconsin defense came up with a 3-and-out and forced a 52-yard field goal from Purdue kicker Paul Griggs.
Following a 4th-and-one gamble from the Purdue 16-yard line, the Boilermakers capitalized on a missed coverage and a 24-9 Badger lead became a 24-16 lead with one 79-yard pass from Austin Appleby to running back Akeem Hunt.
It was enough to wake up the offense and the only mistake that the Badger defense made in a nearly flawless effort on that side of the ball. The Badgers dialed up massive pressure all day long and it resulted in four sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a team.
Wisconsin got all it needed and more from the usual suspects on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Vince Biegel and Derek Landisch were all over the field, with the duo tallying four sacks and accounting for 13 tackles on the day. Biegel and safety Michael Caputo tied atop the tackle list with seven each.
After the Badgers and Boilermakers took turns stopping each other, the Badgers offense woke back up and gave the final push needed to retake control of the game.
UW took advantage of field position at its own 42-yard line with 2:32 left to go in the third quarter, going on a 58-yard touchdown drive that took all of four plays. Wisconsin inserted Tanner McEvoy at QB, looking for a spark and they got that.
Following an 18-yard run by McEvoy to start the possession, it was Melvin Gordon with two carries for 27 yards. McEvoy capped off the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to put UW up 31-16, and Wisconsin never looked back the rest of the way.
The win is Wisconsin’s fourth straight in Big Ten play and seventh in the last eight since the season opening loss to LSU.
It also means the Badgers are one of just three teams left with just one loss in conference play out of the West division. UW will face the other two in two of the next three weeks, with Nebraska visiting next week and the Gophs visiting to end the season.
For Wisconsin, the task remains simple — win three more games and you’re heading to Indianapolis with your biggest goal of the season in front of you, a Big Ten championship.