The Wisconsin Badgers (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten), exorcised some demons as they defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since 2019, dominating No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers, 30-13 on Saturday afternoon.
Wisconsin’s last win against a ranked opponent came on Nov. 30, 2019 when it defeated No. 8 Minnesota, 38-17. Since then, Wisconsin has lost eight-straight against ranked opponents. This was also quarterback Graham Mertz’s first win against a ranked opponent as a starter. He was 0-6 since the start of the 2020 season entering Saturday.
Wisconsin’s recipe for success consisted of one part running the damn ball and one part defense.
Wisconsin racked up 290 yards on the ground, as the Badgers offense featured two 100-yard rushers for the second time this season.
Chez Mellusi led the way for Wisconsin with 27 carries for 149 yards and a score, while Braelon Allen wasn’t far behind, rushing 12 times for 140 yards and two scores.
The backs capped off Wisconsin’s two longest drives of the day with rushing scores. Allen finished off a 13-play, 92-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown for the game’s first score. While Mellusi finished off a three-play, 94-yard drive with a 20-yard rushing touchdown.
Allen ignited that 94-yard scoring drive with a career-long 70-yard rush.
While the ground attack was the driving force for the Wisconsin offense, Leo Chenal was the driving force for the Badger defense, as it stymied the Boilermaker offense.
Purdue managed just 206 yards of offense, including -13 rushing yards. This was the first time this season that Wisconsin has held the opposition to negative rushing yards and they are now allowing an average of 53.3 yards per game on the ground, which would give Wisconsin the stingiest rushing defense in the nation as of the time of posting.
Chenal registered nine tackles (eight solo), and career highs in tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (3.5). Since missing the first two games of the season due to COVID, Chenal has been on a tear, posting 51 tackles (27 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in five games.
Chenal’s partner in crime, fellow inside linebacker, Jack Sanborn posted eight tackles (four solo), .5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss in the game.
Coming into the match up with Purdue there was a lot of talk centered on how Wisconsin would need corral Purdue receiver David Bell, who scorched Iowa last weekend with 11 receptions, 240 yards and a score.
Just like Wisconsin’s game plan to contend with the Purdue rushing offense, Wisconsin was successful in keeping Bell in check, limiting him to six receptions for 33 yards. Bell’s first reception came late in the first half. Purdue offensive lineman Spencer Holstege even recorded a reception before Bell hauled in his catch.
With Bell being held in check, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell needed to go elsewhere with the ball and he set his sights on tight end Payne Durham. The tight end recorded nine receptions for 112 yards and the Boilermakers only offensive score of the game.
O’Connell finished the game 24-of-32, 20 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. O’Connell has now thrown eight interceptions on the season.
Not only did the Badger defense intercept O’Connell three times, but it also recovered two fumbles, forcing five turnovers on the day, including two forced turnovers by Collin Wilder (one fumble forced/recovered, one interception) who also recorded seven tackles (six solo). Caesar Williams and John Torchio also cut Boilermaker drives short with interceptions.
Entering the game, the Badgers had forced just four turnovers on the season (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries).
However, even though the Wisconsin defense was adept at taking the ball away from Purdue, Wisconsin was unable to cash in on most of them early, only scoring three points off of its first three takeaways.
Most notably came toward the end of the first half, following Torchio’s interception, that was returned 37 yards, to the Pudue, one-yard-line. Wisconsin then lost four yards in three plays, but ended up somewhat salvaging the drive with a Collin Larsh, 23-yard field goal.
Larsh was three-of-three on the day, kicking and is now 10-12 on the season.
Wisconsin also traded turnovers with Purdue twice, as Allen fumbled the play following Wilder’s forced fumble/recovery and Mertz fumbled three plays following the WIlliams interception. Mertz’s fumble was returned 56 yards for a touchdown by George Karlaftis.
However, Wisconsin was able to turn things around late in the game, scoring 10 points off of its final two takeaways, with Allen’s second score of the day and Larsh’s final field goal.
With the win, Wisconsin still controls their own destiny in the Big Ten West, with arguably the most important of its remaining games coming next weekend, when it hosts the No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten).