The month of November is the hardest for the Wisconsin Badgers in their 2014 season. Contests against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota loom in consecutive weeks forthcoming and will decide the Big Ten West division.
Their second game of the month had them traveling to West Lafayette, Ind. to take on the Purdue Boilermakers. A great second quarter for the offense, coupled with the defense rising in the third quarter when Purdue made it a one-score affair to stifle their opponents, were contributing factors in the Badgers' 34-16 victory Saturday afternoon.
In this week's B5Q Roundtable to discuss their second straight victory, we welcome the following writers:
Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24)
Louis Bien (@LouisBien)
Myself, Jake Kocorowski (@JakeKocoB5Q)
The Good: What went right against Purdue?
Luke: The uniforms. I love the jersey combination. The Badgers are 7-0 when they wear the red helmets and have won by a combined 298-78. On another note, the Badgers first half offense looked great. Stave was 15-20 and Gordon had close to 100 yards in the first half. The defense also played an outstanding game. Allowing only 23 points over the past three games is a great feat.
When Purdue started to creep back into the game, the defense stepped up and continuously forced Purdue's offense off the field. The Arandacona turned up the heat on defense. That allowed Vince Biegel to break through the offensive line. Derek Landisch squeaked through as well. Overall, the defense again played exceptionally well, only giving up 230 total yards and one big play on Purdue's lone touchdown.
Louis: Life is so nice when Stave is hitting passes and Ludwig's wheelhouse is turning and the defense is strangling things. At that point, we can just sit back, relax, and marvel at Melvin Gordon doing everything that he does. That's this team at its best. That's what the end of the first half felt like. The feeling didn't last long, but I'll take it as a good enough sign that this team is in its groove and ready for the showdown next week.
More from the Game
Badgers derail Boilermakers, 34-16
Riding a 24-point first half from a balanced offensive effort, Wisconsin's defense shut down Purdue's offense after two consecutive scoring drives in the third quarter.
More from the Game
Jake: The offense in the second quarter was finely tuned and showed the potential of this attack when a hint of a passing game is around. Luke hit it on the head with Stave playing very well -- the passing game actually outgained the rushing attack in the first half (190 to 103). Also really liked the way offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig used both Stave and Tanner McEvoy today, and interchanging them mid-series was a wrink I was at first skeptical about but embrace fully now. Eight receivers caught the ball today -- EIGHT.
Also to note, field position was huge the entire game. Wisconsin, with its defense making stops and Kenzel Doe breaking off some decent returns, actually had an average starting position on its own 41 yard line. If they can do this against Nebraska next week (more on that later), they're going to be in fine shape at home.
Lastly, the defense from the mid 3rd quarter on. After momentum swung back to Purdue after the 10 points in consecutive drives to make it a one-score game, the next three drives for the Boilermakers gained -18 yards. NEGATIVE 18 yards. That's locking it down. Biegel's a beast, and the defense responded quite well in the face of adversity.
The Bad: What went wrong vs. the Boilermakers?
Luke: The passing game didn't work in the second half. What was a bright spot of the offense in the first half was a moot point in the second half. Stave started the half 2-7 with a bad interception on a drive moving towards a score. Stave missed a wide open Fumagalli for a first down on the, play where that he instead looked for a blanketed Sam Arneson and was intercepted. McEvoy came in and and gave a spark with his feet, but without Gordon finding success on the ground, the game could have turned out a lot different. Stave finished the half 4-9, showing coach Ludwig's lack of confidence in the aerial attack after the slow start in the second half.
The special teams weren't terrible, but they again weren't great. They almost gave up a huge, momentum changing onside kick that was luckily not possessed in the field of play. The Badgers also gave up a 41 yard kick return and kicked a ball out of bounds, giving Purdue the ball at the 35 to start the drive. While we didn't see Bart Houston with a rugby punt, Drew Meyer did have all three of his punts inside the 20. While that looks good in the box score, he never really pinned them deep inside their territory. There is still plenty of work for coach Genyk in the coming weeks with the unit.
Louis: Yeah, sticking McEvoy in the game mid-drive was a nice wrinkle, but I'm skeptical that it'll work past this week. Now it's on tape, and so far it's a big neon sign screaming ZONE READ.
Good on McEvoy for being effective when he was in the game...BUT it rubbed me the wrong way that Stave's interception put him on the bench to start the next drive. It's a bad signal to send a quarterback that a single bad mistake means the pine, especially after he played so well in the first half (though admittedly started slow in the second). I guess I'm committed to Team Stave. He earned himself a lot of leeway in the first half, I think, and deserved the chance to dig out his offense. But McEvoy did just fine so call me pedantic, that's okay.
Overall, the team was a bit sleepy, but that's not all that surprising. This game looked a lot like Michigan State's and Nebraska's bouts against the Boilermakers. Purdue isn't as bad as its record, and I guess I can't blame Wisconsin if it was slightly distracted.
Jake: I'll give the special teams here a pass though nothing "special" really happened. I thought they played alright this week, and Purdue's average starting field position was its own 26-yard line.
I will say the offense in its first four drives of the second half. Two turnovers, and definite possible points left on the field with the turnover on downs and Stave's bad interception. Like the Northwestern game, Stave made a terrible read and decision -- though this one wasn't as egregious.
The 79-yard touchdown pass to running back Akeem Hunt was the first really bad play from this defense in quite a while. It was a "pick" or "rub" play, where essentially wide receivers block defenders from covering their assignments before the ball even leaves the quarterback's arm, so Landisch couldn't get there in time. Give credit to Purdue though for executing exactly how it should.
B5Q Game Balls: Who earned them?
Luke: Every week I try to not give it to Gordon because it seems like such an anomaly. This week, I will again give a game ball to Gordon. The heisman candidate ran for over 200 yards for the third time this season. He also had 44 yards receiving and finished with two touchdowns. Hell of a day for him, AGAIN.
This week I am giving out two game balls. You can't ignore what Biegel did on defense. Biegel finished with seven tackles, including three sacks and four tackles for loss. That is some kind of a performance if you ask me. While Landisch is still playing well, Biegel is starting to become the star of the linebacking group. This group flies all over the field and chops down running backs in the backfield. The Chevy Bad Boys (the linebackers unit nickname) are doing its best to make Badgers forget about Borland and company.
Louis: The entire defensive coaching staff for how quickly players have developed during his their short stints in charge, and especially throughout this season. This defense is getting better in every phase, every week. The secondary has given up so few big plays over the last few weeks that it actually felt like shock when Akeem Hunt scored a long touchdown as opposed to a weekly inevitability. I can't wait to see what Aranda has planned for Nebraska.
Jake: Biegel-mania ran wild on one side of the ball. Gordon did the same on the other. Both are deserving of the honors this week, though I'd throw a vote for Jordan Fredrick for leading the team in receptions this week with five for 64 yards.
Who's Next: Nebraska (off a bye)
Luke: I think this defense can force Nebraska into difficult situations and bad decisions. I am not sure how the offense will stack up against their defense. There are still Nebraska players on the team who experience the 70-31 trouncing that happened in Indianapolis in 2012. They talked about that being burned into their memories at the Big Ten Media Day and how excited they were to get another chance to get Wisconsin back for that defeat. It helps that the game is in Madison and I am really interested to see the opening spread for this game. Bo Pelini will definitely be trying to out-coach Andersen to get a win against Wisconsin.
My gut is telling me Nebraska wins this game by 10 because I just don't think this Wisconsin team has what it takes to beat a good team. My head is telling me that Nebraska really isn't that good either and that Wisconsin has steadily grown since their loss to Northwestern. Because of this, I am going to say Wisconsin 24 Nebraska 21. Hopefully the game is under the lights, the student section will be rowdy and the Badgers find a way to prove that they are again the real "Big Red".
Louis: 31-21, Wisconsin. (But the hell knows because I don't trust any of Wisconsin's opponents as accurate barometers of what this team is or isn't. I'm excited, I'm scared, I'm a whole bunch of things at once. Mostly I'm anxious to see Wisconsin play a quality opponent for once. I think it'll kick ass.)
Jake: I think during one of the post-game shows, they mentioned the game will either be at 11 or 2:30 -- probably depending upon the Michigan State-Ohio State showdown Saturday evening -- so maybe they'll play under the lights by the time the game ends. There's been concerns in the past about weather in mid-to-late November that have normally prohibited Big Ten teams to compete under the lights. The forecast as of now for next Saturday: a high of 31 with a low of 19.
The injury to Konrad Zagzebski has me worried about the game. Ankle injuries are a pain to come back from, and though this defensive line has performed well with limited, youthful numbers, he's a leader on the defense. Nebraska comes in averaging 40.4 points and 490.6 yards per game -- 280.7 on the ground. They should have running back Ameer Abdullah available, though he himself may not be 100 percent healthy.
Defensively, the Cornhuskers give up under 125 rushing yards per game, so the Badgers' passing game will need to step up big like they did in the first half of Saturday's game.
I'm still undecided about who will pull off the win, but with the Badgers' playing at Camp Randall Stadium, I'm leaning towards Wisconsin, but like Luke, in a very close fashion.