Blink and you’d miss it. Correction. Blink and you’d miss him. From the second the game clock started ticking, Jonathan Taylor was ready to eat. Taylor made up for the lack of sunshine Saturday by shining all afternoon.
On the premier Wisconsin drive, the Badgers picked up 75 yards en route to an early score. Taylor racked up all 75 of those yards on just three plays. He busted loose on the third play from scrimmage, streaking down the field for 67 yards and a 7-0 Wisconsin lead.
The defense shone just as brightly from the gun, forcing a lockdown three-an-out on Purdue’s opening drive.
Following Taylor’s flawless example, Alex Hornibrook led the Wisconsin offense on a perfect 73-yard drive. He threw 4-of-4 for 67 yards that culminated in a 14-yard Quintez Cephus touchdown, his fifth of the year.
Wisconsin’s OL played exceptionally early, shifting blockers seamlessly and creating mammoth holes for Taylor and Bradrick Shaw to exploit. The Purdue defensive line couldn’t keep up with misdirection run plays, and the Wisconsin rush attack capitalized.
At the conclusion of the first quarter, Wisconsin had nearly three times the total yardage of Purdue, including a staggering dichotomy between rush yards, Wisconsin gaining 98, Purdue gaining six.
After a five minute bland Purdue drive that resulted in a 36-yard field goal, Wisconsin looked to score on their third consecutive drive. The drive was off to a characteristically great start but changed mood quickly after Hornibrook missed Danny Davis terribly, resulting in a Purdue INT and the end of a nearly perfect Hornibrook performance.
The Wisconsin offense stuck to their roots in the first half, at times running the same counter-right run play three times in a row. Those consistent calls, however, did not inhibit their ability to produce at a high rate, as they’d consistently pick up 5-7 yards per carry.
What’s more, the Wisconsin defense kept their composure in high-pressure situations, stifling Purdue momentum at every opportunity. After the Hornibrook INT, the Boilermakers controlled the ball at the Wisconsin 15, threatening to cut the Wisconsin lead to just four. However, Garrett Dooley and Alec James took note of the scenario, and promptly sacked Purdue QB David Blough once each, putting them far away enough to shank a 42-yard FG attempt, protecting the Wisconsin lead.
As the clock winded down to conclude the first half, Purdue had worked the ball well within the Wisconsin zone. On a broken play in which Purdue QB Sindelar dumped his pass off in towards the middle, ILB TJ Edwards made contact with the receiver immediately, pancaking him to the turf. Unfortunately, officials ruled Edwards led with the crown of his helmet, making dangerous contact with the Purdue TE’s facemask. Edwards would be ejected for targeting and miss the second half of Saturday’s game. That will be the entirety of his suspension, and he will be available for next Saturday’s game.
To begin the second half, both teams had relatively uneventful drives. Wisconsin looked to be on the brink of a scoring opportunity, but a false start and block-in-the-back penalties would prevent further progress. Additionally, on a long third down attempt, Hornibrook would throw his second INT of the afternoon, this time into heavy coverage short. It was an incredibly ill-advised pass considering throwing the ball away would’ve likely given Purdue poor field position off a punt, rather than landing on the Wisconsin 28. The defense would continue their elite campaign, handedly holding Purdue to their third field goal make of the day on four attempts.
At the end of a relatively quiet third quarter, Wisconsin sat comfortably with an eight point ead, and controlled the ball within the Purdue 10 after a 41 yard connection between Hornibrook and his new favorite target Quintez Cephus. However, that sense of comfort quickly vanished after Jonathan Taylor proved he is in fact human, losing the football on the Purdue 5-yard line.
With a one score deficit, Purdue was given a gift, but not without its due challenge. With 95 yards ahead of them, Purdue had a ways to go, and Wisconsin knew it. However, Purdue was there to fight, converting a tough 3rd and 15 at midfield to give their drive life. On the ensuing third down conversion attempt, Wisconsin defense would prevail, putting tremendous pressure on QB Sindelar, who overthrew his target.
“Our defensive staff is doing a heck of job, players are embracing the positions they’re in,” Chryst said.
After an embarrassing three-and-out, freshman WR Danny Davis suffered a left leg injury, and was helped off the field by training staff. It appeared he couldn’t put much weight on the effected leg, but his outlook remains unknown.
Purdue, ever persistent, would drive into Wisconsin territory, breathing down the necks of the defense. In an almost immediate response, OLB Leon Jacobs would deliver a clutch INT to squash any hope of a Purdue TD. Defensive backs and even linebackers have been particularly aggressive when it comes to pass coverage, breaking up passes with just enough physicality to make the play, but not enough to draw a penalty.
“Those are guys that trust themselves, and work to apply their training and hope it carries over,” Chryst said.
The clearest pattern to extrapolate from Saturday’s matchup was when the offense struggled, the defense answered in almost routine fashion. During the second half especially, Hornibrook’s indecisiveness resulted in broken plays, and Taylor was more or less contained. This meant the onus on the defense was higher than ever, and their response was inspired.
“We need to find how to compliment our defense … I thought [they were] sensational, they were put in some really tough situations, I loved their energy,” Coach Chryst said.
On the ensuing drive post-INT, Wisconsin ate up clock effectively, picking up first down after first down, draining the clock to under two minutes after working themselves into the red zone.
Cephus hit the 100 yard mark late in the fourth, his most iconic performance to date.
Wisconsin gobbled up chunks of yardage in the rush game late, both running down the clock and picking up enough yardage to keep their final drive alive. Wisconsin would eventually run out the clock, leaving Camp Randall wet, but victorious.
Although this win came with its fair share of learning moment, Coach Chryst finds that, at times, those kinds of wins can be the most beneficial.
“In some ways those become really good wins, we know we’re not doing everything, we have things to improve upon,” he said.
Wisconsin will seek dry conditions after a 17-9 win, continuing their undefeated campaign. Wisconsin takes on Maryland next week at home, looking to extend their win streak to seven.