The now-No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers withstood a Purdue passing attack that dominated the first quarter, capitalizing on a fierce second quarter to turn the tide in a 49-20 blowout win.
Three interceptions turned into 14 points in that second 15-minute frame for Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten), who is now one win away from its second Big Ten West division title in three years.
Our writers broke down the win and some of their favorite memories from the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, which resumes in both teams’ regular-season finale on Saturday.
The Good: What went well for Wisconsin vs. Purdue
Owen Riese: Everything went well for Wisconsin in West Lafayette, but notably the quarterbacks were far more effective together than they have been all season. Both quarterbacks threw touchdowns and neither one turned it over. Bart Houston looked better than he has in a few games, and while I’m still not a fan of the strategy, like Mike Patrick mentioned on commentary, this is the way to do it, if you’re going to.
Jon Beidelschies: The running game is cooking with gas, man. Corey, Dare, Bradrick, even Alec Ingold got in on the fun. I think it is a function of Clement getting healthy and the offensive line solidifying with a core group, but it’s finally fun to watch the Badgers haul the rock on the ground.
Jake Kocorowski: Let’s discuss the turnover margin. Four turnovers for the Badgers on Saturday and a plus-three in that category leading to 14 points. The play of the game/overall play-of-the-year nominee goes to outside linebacker T.J. Watt with his pass deflection/pick-six that broke open the game. After that play, you just had a feeling they wouldn’t let it go. T.J. Edwards’s deflection/interception led to a 28-3 lead off of Houston’s 19-yard touchdown pass to fullback Alec Ingold.
The Bad: What do the Badgers need to improve upon?
Owen: I guess the popular one is the deep pass, but honestly the deep pass is the toughest play to defend in football, so it’s tough to be overly critical in a game that, frankly, got out of hand very quickly and is an easy game to get bored in as a player (don’t tell fans this.) Also, the offensive line still allows way too much penetration for my liking, too many negative plays.
Jon: I will disagree with Owen and be overly critical on something that I have no practical experience in. The deep pass is the only element of the defense that I don’t have any confidence in. I am not sure that it is a function of coverage schemes or personnel or boredom, but if the Badgers make the Big Ten championship game and/or a major bowl, they are going to have to defend it better than they have so far this season. It cost them the Michigan game and I worry it will be their downfall against another elite team.
Jake: I think the deep-ball discussion has been intriguing between Owen and Jon, but I’ll go with the fumbles on special teams. Let me be absolutely clear: the conditions at Ross-Ade Stadium were terrible with the wind, but returners Natrell Jamerson (kickoff) and Jazz Peavy (punt) both muffed kicks in the critical third phase of the game. Peavy’s fumble led to three points early in the third quarter.
Early indications show the windy conditions won’t be replicated at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, but Wisconsin needs to win the turnover battle against a Minnesota team plus-11 in margin (second-best in the Big Ten).
Game Ball: Who’s your team MVP for this win?
Owen: You’ve got to give it to T.J. Watt, right? His first career INT goes to the crib, tough to beat that. He also had a sack and was disruptive all day. More performances like this to end the season, and the likelihood he receives a favorable grade from the NFL Advisory Committee will continue to rise.
Jon: Let’s give them to Shaw and Ingold with two touchdowns apiece. These guys have filled their roles admirably and it was nice to see them get theirs against Purdue.
Jake: Had three of them in my Sunday column, but let’s go with Houston. 5-of-6 for 102 yards and was the quarterback for four of Wisconsin’s six offensive touchdown drives. He showcased the ability to make solid throws and also run the ball efficiently. The quarterbacks as a whole played well, completing 12-of-15 passes for 191 yards with two touchdown passes, a welcomed sign for what’s been a one-dimensional offense the past few weeks.
Up Next: AXE WEEK! Name your favorite moment from the rivalry.
Owen: Honestly, being the youngest person involved in this, the most notable was Jonathan Casillas blocking the punt in the Metrodome for the game-winning touchdown against a Laurence Maroney-led Gopher squad. However, my favorite has to be, as a former offensive lineman, seeing Melvin Gordon break Dayne’s single season rushing record in 2014.
Jon: I remember sitting in a moving truck, mad at having to haul a friend’s heavy crap AND having to miss the game on TV, when Casillas blocked the punt. I forget who made the call, but I remember the parking lot and the truck and the moment when it happened. Made a cold day warmer. God, I love that Axe.
Jake: The 2005 blocked punt is the most memorable, and as Jon’s shown, I remember exactly where I was when it happened (listening to the radio in my car outside a reception hall before an independent wrestling show I was working at). Owen’s response about Gordon and Wisconsin’s game in 2014 was probably my second in recent memory that really popped out.
For a different answer, probably the 1999 20-17 overtime win by the Badgers was the one of the more monumental wins as the Badgers were without Barry Alvarez (knee replacement) and Vitaly Pisetsky delivered the game-winning field goal in the Metrodome. That continued their ascent towards the second of two Rose Bowl wins.
From Walk-On This Way, you cannot forget Matt Unertl’s drive in 2000, where after UW got the ball back with a 27-20 lead, the former walk-on carried the rock seven times for 32 yards and a touchdown to essentially ice the game. Mike Echols’s 56-yard pick-six sealed a 41-20 win on Senior Day.