Wisconsin's borderline disastrous start to 2012 is far from being erased, but the Badgers took another step towards making up for it in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday. With a 38-14 win over the Purdue Boilermakers, the Badgers are the de-facto leaders of the Leaders Division, while all of their rivals for a Big Ten Championship remain winless.
It was a record-breaking day for Montee Ball, who became the Big Ten's all-time touchdowns leader in an incredible 29-carry, 247-yard, three-touchdown performance.
The UW defense stepped up and finally played to its talent level on Saturday ... after the first play of the game. Akeem Hunt returned the game's opening kickoff 44 yards, and Caleb TerBush found Antavian Edison for a 52-yard gain on Purdue's first play from scrimmage. The play was initially called a touchdown, but Edison was ultimately called down at the 1-yard line upon review. That review turned out to be irrelevant as TerBush scored on the next play with a QB sneak. That was the last score created by the Purdue offense until garbage time.
Wisconsin's offense answered instantly. James White started the game at running back and ripped off two excellent runs to start the game, for 16 and five yards, respectively. That set up the passing game for Matt Canada's offense, and it took just three more plays for UW to tie the game. Joel Stave hit Jared Abbrederis on back-to-back passes for seven and 27 yards, setting up a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pederson. The Badgers' tight end has had a slightly disappointing year up to this point, but he came alive on Saturday with four catches for 77 yards, even out-gaining Abbrederis.
On the proceeding Purdue drive, following an excellent return by Raheem Mostert, the Boilermakers slowly moved into field goal range before Dezmen Southward came up with a huge interception. For the rest of the 1st quarter, the two teams traded punts as the Badgers' passing game got less effective.
Ball, who didn't quite look like himself on his first two drives as the featured back, finally came to life on the Badgers' first drive of the second quarter. He carried the ball four times for 37 yards, including a 20-yard rush that moved Wisconsin into scoring range. He also had a 14-yard reception on the drive and punched in the go-ahead score from three yards out.
TerBush, who struggled from his massive first-play pass onward, had his worst drive of the game on Purdue's following series. That, coupled with a Kyle French field goal that created a two-score lead and a bigger sense of urgency, caused Danny Hope to sit him down and turn to Robert Marve, the sixth-year senior who has decided to play with a torn ACL. Marve went 1-5 on his first series, but got another chance to get the Boilermakers back into the game after a miss by French on the Badgers' next possession. He guided Purdue into field goal range, then took two massive sacks to haul his team right out of field goal range, keeping the score 17-7 at halftime.
On the second play of the third quarter, Ball ripped off a stellar 67-yard touchdown run to put the Badgers ahead, 24-7. TerBush returned to a game that was much sloppier and rainier than he left it, which certainly didn't help his already shaky passing. He threw two incomplete passes, helping Purdue to another three and out. Between their quarterback play and the pouring rain, Purdue fans slowly but surely began to leave the stands at this point.
The rest of the quarter was a dull one, with Ball and White sharing the workload for the Badgers, but failing to make big plays. Another three-and-out for Purdue late in the quarter followed by a bad punt set up the Badgers with great field position, but Stave thew an interception in the back of the end zone to give the ball back to the Boilermakers. On their final drive of the quarter, Hope turned to his third quarterback of the day, Rob Henry. He was no more successful than the two QBs who preceded him.
A consistent dose of rain and a common syndrome known as "being a freshman" caused Canada to take the ball out of Stave's hands and into Ball's on the drive where Ball set the record, between the end of the 3rd quarter the beginning of the 4th. He was fed the ball on five consecutive plays and picked up 22 yards, capped off with a three-yard touchdown rush to set the all-time Big Ten touchdowns record.
Ball took the rest of the game off, and White grabbed a touchdown of his own on the next drive in similar style. He was handed the ball for five consecutive plays and picked up 66 yards on those plays, finishing off the drive and UW's scoring with a 14-yard touchdown rush.
Purdue's second touchdown of the game came with 1:51 remaining, on an impressive 81-yard run by Hunt.
Melvin Gordon closed out the game for Wisconsin, with the highlight of his day being a 51-yard rush on the final drive of the game. He finished the game with seven rushes for 80 yards and the Badgers racked up an absolutely ridiculous 467 rushing yards on 57 carries for the game as a team.
Wisconsin are now 2-1 in the Leaders division, while Purdue are 0-2. Indiana and Illinois are also 0-2, and both are underdogs in their games later on Saturday. The Badgers are still not as good as anticipated and have plenty of issues that need fixing, but this was their biggest hurdle on the road to a Big Ten Championship game berth. It would now take a complete and utter disaster for UW to avoid a trip to Indianapolis.