The Wisconsin Badgers (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) secured a much-needed top-25 victory on Saturday against the No. 25 Purdue Boilermakers, to remain in the hunt for the Big Ten West title. The first half was not always pretty, but there were still plenty of positives to draw from upon from the performance.
Let’s take a look back at some of the key takeaways from the conference victory for the Badgers.
The Wisconsin front seven is playing tremendous football.
Inside linebackers, Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal, as well as outside linebacker Nick Herbig, were absolute difference-makers once again against Purdue. The the duo of Sanborn and Chenal, in particular, were electric, combining for 17 tackles and four sacks. The defensive line did not fill up the stat sheet nearly as much, but they were phenomenal as well. I was really impressed by Isaiah Mullens who was in on a couple of nice run stuffs and also added a sack.
Overall, the Wisconsin defense held Purdue to -13 net rushing yards, and completely shut down star wide receiver David Bell who the week prior had 240 yards against Iowa. Jim Leonhard put together a tremendous game plan, and the Badgers went out and executed at a high level. For Purdue to only manage 206 yards of total offense after throwing for over 370 yards the previous two games is a testament to how great the defense played on Saturday.
Both Wisconsin and Purdue were very careless with the ball in the first half.
The Badgers had multiple lost fumbles, one of which went the other way for a George Karlaftis touchdown. While on the stat sheet only two were actually recovered by their opponents, Wisconsin was lucky on a few occasions.
Coming into the game dead last in turnover margin, in the first half the game looked like another turnover filled game that would ultimately doom the Badgers.
However, the Wisconsin defense dialed up some turnovers as well, and swung the game back in their favor. Jim Leonhard’s bunch forced a season-high five turnovers, one more than they had all season through the first six games.
The secondary was aggressive, jumping three different Aidan O’Connell passes for interceptions. All year long the Wiscosnin defense had been close, but against the Boilermakers they made the plays necessary to convert on takeaway opportunities.
Safety Collin Wilder had a hell of game, coming up with not only an interception, but also a forced fumble/fumble recovery by way of stealing the ball right out of the grasp of Purdue tight end Payne Durham. Caesar Williams and safety John Torchio also got in on the action, with Torchio nearly taking it all the way for a pick-six.
Turnovers were a huge reason for the Badgers road win, and it was a relief to see Wisconsin on the winning end of a turnover laden game.
There is still plenty for Wisconsin to figure out offensively and in special teams to limit turnovers, and there were still instances of the offense not converting with a short field, but the defense came to play and won the turnover battle.
Running game carries the load on offense
Wisconsin didn’t need to throw the ball to beat Purdue on Saturday.
Graham Mertz was on early in the game completing his first five pass attempts, all of which were set up nicely in the flow of the game and were fairly easy. In the second half Paul Chryst didn’t call a single pass play, as the running game was rolling.
The offensive line has struggled in pass protection throughout the season, Purdue included, but the hogmollies got after it on the ground against Purdue. Even with four tight ends banged up, Wisconsin was able to move the ball on the ground nearly at will in the second half.
Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen each surpassed 100 yards, and as a team the Badgers managed 290 yards rushing. Mellusi toted the rock 27 times and averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and was able to find his way into into the end zone on a great individual effort.
Allen broke off a 70-yard run out of the shadow of his team’s own end zone, and found his way into the end zone twice while averaging nearly 12 yards per carry on only 12 carries. He was a little loose with the ball and fumbled twice, but the talent is definitely there and he ran extremely well.
The duo of Mellusi and Allen have shined the past three games, and Paul Chryst seems comfortable building the whole plane out of the two running backs. There will likely be a game upcoming where the passing game will need to do more, but against Purdue the running game shouldered the load and got the job done.