MADISON -- Someone give this defense the keys to the city.
For the 10th consecutive game between the two programs -- in what is becoming a timeless, yearly tradition -- the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 24-7 at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday behind yet another stellar defensive performance.
While the Badgers' defense (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) stymied the Boilermakers' offense, redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave posted his second consecutive 300-yard performance through the air, true freshman running back-turned-human bowling ball Alec Ingold scored two touchdowns with redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale added another rushing score.
"Each game goes differently," Badgers head coach Paul Chryst said. "And to come out of it and be able to go into the winning locker room, you appreciate that and all the work that's done by the players and the coaches and that's good."
More on the Game
More on the Game
It wasn't flawless for the Badgers on homecoming weekend, however, as penalties and empty red zone possessions slowed down what could have been an early rout of the 1-6 Boilermakers (0-3 Big Ten). The Wisconsin defense, however, held Purdue to a season-low 191 yards on a brisk afternoon in Madison, and the offense wasn't needed to light up the scoreboard.
"This defense, the reason it's playing well is they don't care about the numbers," Chryst said. "They care about playing together and being a part of a good defense."
They may not care about them, but those numbers for the Badgers defense that entered the game ranked 12th nationally were made even more impressive when all was said and done. Opponents are now scoring just 10.3 points per game against a unit that seems to have a different player step up each week.
This time around, it was inside linebacker T.J. Edwards' turn.
During the week, Aranda challenged Edwards and fellow inside linebacker Chris Orr to step up their play against the Boilermakers -- which they assuredly did.
"I'm glad he did," Edwards said. "It's that Coach Aranda love that we need."
In what turned out to be breakout game, the redshirt freshman linebacker finished with 16 tackles, 1.5 of which went for a loss and a forced fumble.
"It feels good to just finally let it loose, start making some plays," Edwards said. "It's about time I think. So I'm glad I could do that today."
The offense was surely glad, as well.
Stave went 30-39 for 322 yards and two second-half touchdowns put the game away for the Badgers, but it wasn't always smooth sailing.
Despite out-gaining the Boilermakers 272 yards to 61 in the first 30 minutes of action, the Badgers went into the locker room at halftime clinging onto only a 10-7 lead after multiple red zone miscues.
Ogunbowale's four-yard run on the final play of the third quarter extended the Badgers lead to 17-7 and gave the Camp Randall faithful plenty of reason to jump around.
Ingold then scored an impressive one-yard touchdown run when he took matters into his own hands on a fourth-down goal line plunge to lay a 24-7 dagger into Purdue.
"I wasn't really thinking much," Ingold said. "It was all instincts at that point. I just had to just do what the coaches trusted me to do on fourth down, was get in the end zone."
It was the third touchdown of the freshman's career. His second came with 5:35 to go in the first quarter on a four yard scamper off the right tackle which capped a 10-play, 81-yard drive to open the game.
Things have changed quite a bit for a player whose role was as a scout team linebacker just four weeks ago.
"Three months ago, no one was asking about me, no one wanted to see what I was doing on a Saturday night," Ingold said. "So, it's pretty interesting, it's been a whirlwind, but I'm grateful for it."
After Ingold's first score, the offense continued driving on the Boilermakers with that same success during their next three first half possessions: 12 plays, 53 yards; 11 plays, 65 yards; and 10 plays, 63 yards. But instead of turning the game into, well, a typical Wisconsin-Purdue contest, early on, the Badgers managed just three points from those drives.
After the Badgers forced a three-and-out on the Boilermakers' first possession, Stave and company entered the red zone with ease. On a 3rd-and-13 from the Purdue 16-yard line, Stave stepped up in the pocket and saw junior wide receiver Rob Wheelwright running free across the middle of the field.
The ball, however, must have been deflated and effectively made into a parachute, because it sailed well over the Wheelwright's head and into the hands of safety Leroy Clark, who returned the ball 66 yards to the Wisconsin 29.
"We just got to do a better job executing when we get down there," Stave said. "I thought we did a great job sustaining drives, converted a lot of first downs, but again, we got down in the red zone, we didn't come away with as many points as we needed."
As they did nearly all half, Purdue then all but abandoned the pass after Stave's interception -- his lone blemish on the afternoon. The only difference was, this time, they actually found some success.
A two-yard touchdown run via the legs of quarterback David Blough tied the game for the time being at 7-7 with 12:44 remaining in the first half.
Wisconsin's offense was a well-oiled machine on its next two drives until, once again, a tire blew off in the red zone. A 15-yard penalty on tight end Troy Fumagalli forced the Badgers to settle for a Rafael Gaglianone 28-yard field goal, and then Gaglianone's 35-yarder at the end of the half was blocked.
"I mean, it's the execution, is the common theme," Chryst said of the Badgers red zone struggles. "But I think that the penalties, I thought that we can still get better with Joel seeing the field and making some good decisions."
Whatever offensive miscues were had in the first half were overshadowed by the defensive performance of Wisconsin. Linebackers Joe Schobert and Chris Orr both finished with seven tackles and 0.5 sacks, and redshirt sophomore defensive end Chikwe Obasih also added a sack.
Though Edwards was the headliner on Saturday, make no bones about it: Schobert and fellow outside linebacker Vince Biegel still make opposing coaches cringe.
The evidence? The same program that once attempted a record 83 passes against Wisconsin in 1998 had a grand total of six entering the fourth quarter.
Well, that, and the coach straight up admitted it.
"People have not been able to block those two guys," Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell said of Schobert and Biegel. "And that's one of the reasons we wanted to put hands on them and not drop back in pass and let those guys pin their ears back."
Redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson led the way for the Badgers once again with nine catches for 86 yards, but seven players contributed to the big passing game with receptions. Among them included Wheelwright with six catches for 61 yards, Ogunbowale had 6 for 51, Fumagalli caught four for 45 and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jazz Peavy finished with two grabs for 48 yards.
Badgers junior running back Corey Clement, who had sports hernia surgery just over two weeks ago, was back in uniform on the sidelines and led the team out of the huddle. Chryst said he could have played if needed, but with the lead and the play of Ingold and Ogunbowale, he didn't see any snaps.
After Ingold's second touchdown, Edwards decided to return to the buffet line once again to eat some more. At 6'1, 238 pounds, he chased down Purdue wide receiver Markell Jones from behind and forced a fumble that safety Tanner McEvoy pounced on.
It was a play indicative of the entire Badgers' defensive approach.
"We play hard every play," redshirt senior safety Michael Caputo said. "It may not seem like a grinder statistically or on the scoreboard, but as a defense, we're grinding it out every play."
Grind, the defense definitely does. And after a win on homecoming weekend in Madison with a performance like that, there sure is reason for them to celebrate.
Whatever the Saturday night plan is, just make sure to text Alec Ingold.