Finally, an offensive performance reminiscent of the 2011 Badgers.
Everything clicked for the Badgers offense Saturday against Purdue. Montee Ball exploded, the passing game was robust as can be expected with a redshirt freshman in the rain on the road, James White and Melvin Gordon chipped in. If it weren't for a dysfunctional kicking game the Badgers would easily have toppled the 40-point mark for the first time since Indianapolis last year.
The Badgers offense showed a newfound explosiveness and replaced the sluggishness that defined most of the first six games. Ball, Stave and the rest tore into the Boilermaker defense for 645 yards on 78 plays, an 8.27 yards per play that bettered anything the 2011 squad did against a Big Ten opponent.
Gone were the one-yard stuffs. In their place, 15-yard catches and 60-yard rushes:
Above is a chart of the frequency at which the Badgers offense gains a certain number of yards. Thanks to the incomplete pass (76 between the two quarterbacks) zero is the most common, with the rest of the distribution centering from two to five and only occasional ventures beyond 10 yards.
Against Purdue, the Badgers spent as much time in the positive tail of their usual distribution as they did in their typical center. Of 78 plays run by Wisconsin, 20 went for over 10 yards, the same exact number as went for 2 to 5 yards.
Just how much has this performance moved the perception needle? At least among computers, quite a bit. The Fremeau Efficiency Index from Football Outsider has the Badgers up to the 44th best offense in the nation -- not an exciting number by any means, but a vast improvement from the 117th and 91st places it inhabited at times under Danny O'Brien.
The emergence of an offense has pushed the Badgers into nearly-a-ranked-team territory according to most reputable computer systems (i.e. those not used by the BCS and can use margin of victory in determining which team is better). The Sagarin Ratings (margin inclusive) have the Badgers at 27th in the country; FEI has them up to 25th from 44th last week.
And since these systems are still counting the offensive woes with Danny O'Brien under center quite heavily -- it's still 42% of the schedule -- the defense must also have something to do with it.
Purdue's two scoring drives bookended the game. On two plays, they gained 133 yards -- Caleb TerBush's 52-yard pass to Antavian Edison to set up the first touchdown, and Akeem Hunt's 81-yard touchdown run on Purdue's final play in the fourth quarter before the Badgers ran out the clock. On 57 other plays, Purdue picked up 119 yards -- 2.08 per play -- including
Even including the Edison catch, the Boilermakers still failed to break 3.0 yards per play on the day. Again, this is a better performance than the Badgers lodged against anybody in 2011, home or away in Big Ten play -- Minnesota gained 3.25 yards per play in Minneapolis last year.
How bad was it? Purdue gained yards on 29 plays. It ran 59.
They say variety is the spice of life, you know.
The Badgers ride home as massive 19.5 point favorite against Minnesota in this Saturday's battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. They played Northwestern tougher than expected last week and with four victories -- no matter how poor the quality -- they seem to have stepped out of the bottom-20 basement for now. FEI ranks them 66th and Sagarin ranks them 71st after finishing 104th and 91st respectively in 2011.
These Badgers still aren't the 2011 Badgers and these Gophers aren't a total laughingstock any more, but at Camp Randall Stadium and with the next level shown last week at Purdue, the Badgers are correctly the heavy favorites against their rivals.