Wisconsin’s foray into 1970s era football is starting to work.
Relying on their running game and a strong defense, the Badgers put away Purdue for the 15th straight time, 30-13.
It’s not exactly three yards and a cloud of dust – Wisconsin averaged 5.7 yards per carry while rushing for 290 yards, and had eight runs of 10+ yards, with both Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi topping 100 yards.
Wisconsin didn’t just rely on the rushing attack, it turned the game over to the ground assault. Quarterback Graham Mertz attempted just eight passes (he also was sacked twice and scrambled twice), completing five. That’s the fewest passes in a game for Wisconsin since 2012 (seven at Indiana). His last completed pass came with roughly nine minutes remaining in the first half. Mertz threw the ball just twice in the second half, both coming on the same drive midway through in the third quarter.
The Badgers’ defense was, finally, opportunistic. Wisconsin entered the game with just four takeaways but had five against Purdue (which led to just 13 points, but that’s another story). The defense allowed the Boilermakers into the end zone just once.
Purdue was held to 206 total yards of offense a week after exploding for 464 against Iowa. The Boilermakers threw for just 219 yards, their lowest total of the season and fewest in almost exactly two years (Oct. 26, 2019, 17 games ago).
As in any game, not all was perfect. See the passing offense above. Third downs (1-for-11) remain a struggle. The first three takeaways gave Wisconsin the ball in Purdue territory – including at the 1 – and the Badgers came away with only three points (the Badgers scored on all six of their red-zone chances, but with only three touchdowns).
Those remain, still, things for Wisconsin to fix. But for the third straight game, and especially so on this Saturday, Badgers ball rolled on.
Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Linebacker Leo Chanel got a lot of attention last week – including right here in this space – for his play against run-oriented Army. Against Purdue, Chenal proved he isn’t a one-trick pony. With the Boilermakers attempting to pass way more than run (44 dropbacks compared to 18 runs), Chenal often ended up in Purdue’s backfield. He finished with a team-high nine tackles, which included 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. That’s the most TFL in a game for Wisconsin since 2003 (Alex Lewis, 6.5) and the fifth most all time (three players had six). His sacks came at key times, as well, including on a flea flicker. Quite simply he was a disruptor.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Can’t forget the Wisconsin offense, i.e. Allen and Mellusi. The duo combined for 289 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Both set career highs – Allen with 140 and Mellusi 149. Allen even caught a pass to nine yards, giving the duo 298 of the Badgers’ 342 total yards.
Wisconsin took the lead for good in the third quarter on a three-play, 94-yard drive. Allen ripped off a 70-yard run and Mellusi had a great scoring scamper, spinning out of a tackle in the backfield then making a cut which led him to the end zone. But it wouldn’t have happened without a big play from linebacker Nick Herbig. The Badgers had the ball at the Purdue 37 following a great play by Collin Wilder to literally rip the ball out of the hands of Payne Durham (after supplying a crushing hit). But Wisconsin would have to punt on the Purdue 44 thanks in part to a sack. The Boilermakers took the ball from their own 5-yard line and drove into UW territory. Purdue faced a very makeable third-and-2 from the 48 (the Boilermakers entered the game converting 45.7% of such opportunities) and tried a rare – for this game – run. On an option pitch, Herbig stepped up and stuffed running back King Doerue for no gain. Herbig doesn’t make the tackle and it’s a first down. Instead, Purdue punted to the 6 and on the next play from scrimmage Allen had his big run.
Negative numbers aren’t always, well, negative. Wisconsin limited Purdue to minus-13 yards rushing – 35 of those lost yards came on sacks. That’s tied for the second-lowest opponent rushing yards in a game in Badgers history and the best on the road. In 1951, Iowa had -18 yards on 34 attempts while in 2007, Northern Illinois was held to -13 on 18 attempts. The last time Wisconsin held a team to negative rushing yards was in 2015 when Miami (Ohio) had -3. But sometimes negative numbers aren’t good. The first three takeaways for Wisconsin gave the offense the ball in Purdue territory – including at the 1. The Badgers’ offense totaled -18 yards and three points after those turnovers.
THEY SAID IT
"He's a guy that gives this team juice. ... He was all over. ... He'll do anything for this group but he does it with great energy and a passion about it. Those these are infectious. ... I always like watching him. He's fun to watch." -- head coach Paul Chryst on safety Collin Wilder
"It was one of those things where are running game was going and the way our defense was playing, if we could continue to do that, I thought that might be best, especially as we got into the second half and how do you try to shorten the game a little bit." -- Chryst on passing only eight times
"That’s Wisconsin football, that’s what we’re known for, imposing our will on defenses. We are finally getting back to our brand of football. It’s worked for the longest time.” -- running back Braelon Allen
"They're monsters and it shows on the field. They make us (the offense) better." -- running back Chez Mellusi on Wisconsin's defense
"They got up in his face and they challenged him. It probably wasn’t one of his better days." -- Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm on wide receiver David Bell, who was held to 33 yards on six catches. Bell had 120+ receiving yards in four of his five games, including 240 last week vs. Iowa.
It’s back to Camp Randall Stadium for a big rival game as Wisconsin hosts Iowa at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Hawkeyes are 6-1 and allowing just 14.6 points per game. The Hawkeyes, though, lost their last time out –at home 24-7 to Purdue – and have given up 20+ points in back-to-back games. Iowa is coming in with a week off, having been off this past weekend. The Badgers have won four of the last five games in this series for the Heartland Trophy but lost 28-7 at Iowa in 2020.