WEST LAYFAYETTE, Ind. – With the rain pouring down throughout an afternoon game between Purdue and Wisconsin, it became evident the winner at the line of scrimmage would likely determine the victor.
And the Badgers didn’t just win the battle. They annihilated their opponent.
With a complete effort from both the offensive and defensive line resulting in 645 yards of total offense for Wisconsin, the second best total in school history, and only 252 for Purdue, the Badgers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) handily dispatched the Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2) by dominating the trenches from start to finish in a 38-14 win.
Groy, Matthias step up
With 1 minute, 46 seconds left in first half, veteran senior tackle and captain Ricky Wagner went down with an apparent leg injury, as the Wisconsin training staff was quick to attend to the left tackle. It was a scary sight for many Badger fans, as Wagner has been the most consistent producer and player on this offensive line so far this season. In fact, several members of the Badgers’ offensive line took a knee with troubled faces, looking toward the unquestioned leader of their group.
While Wagner walked off under his own power, he did not re-enter the game. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said he does not believe the injury to be anything significant, but it was a sight that left many wondering how the Badgers would adjust.
They countered by moving left guard Ryan Groy over to fill in for Wagner while inserting Zac Matthias at left guard. It was a strong tactical move by Wisconsin offensive line coach Bart Miller. Matthias had started several games this season until he lost his job, and the starting experience showed as the Badgers’ offensive line didn’t miss a beat in Wagner’s absence.
It was the first time Groy had ever lined up at tackle in his career at Wisconsin.
“I didn’t play great but I figured it out on the run,” Groy said. “It takes getting used to, a lot of pass protection things were different and you have to switch around your run block … The last time I played tackle was in high school.”
Bielema said he was also impressed with Groy’s adjustment to a new position.
“I thought [Purdue] was solid up front but our guys blocked them up and did a nice job,” Bielema said. “I can’t say enough about the job Coach Miller has done and even when Ricky popped out of there, to still move forward as a line when Ryan Groy popped in at the tackle position was really impressive.”
The Badgers’ offensive line led the way to 467 net yards rushing. Of those yards, 247 belonged to Montee Ball – a new career-high for Wisconsin’s star tailback.
“I believe they did a great job today,” Ball said. “Every day in practice I’ve been seeing them getting better and better, and glad to see they carried it to the game. And that’s for myself as well – glad to see I finally woke up and made people miss.”
Badgers’ defensive line dominates
Coming into Saturday’s matchup there was audible buzz surrounding the hype of Purdue’s All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound preseason All-American was a focus all week by the media – but if any defensive tackle stole the show Saturday, it was Wisconsin’s Beau Allen.
With under a minute left in the third quarter, Allen ran up the middle of the Purdue punt protection untouched, extending both hands for the block, which UW junior linebacker Chris Borland recovered at the Purdue 20-yard line.
Five plays later, Ball was in the end zone and the score read 31-7.
“It’s my first blocked punt, it felt good,” Allen said. “I was kind of surprised to be honest with you, I didn’t think I was going to get there … I don’t think they even blocked me.”
The Wisconsin defense held Purdue’s rushing attack to just 128 yards, with 81 of those resulting in a late touchdown run against the Badgers’ No. 2 defensive unit by the Boilermakers’ Akeem Hunt.
As far as the pass rush went, Wisconsin learned from its first mistake in the beginning of the game, only rushing three and giving Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush plenty of time to find an open Antavian Edison for a 52-yard pass that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run from TerBush on the next play.
But the Badgers’ defense responded to the adversity like they have all season – with a vengeance.
For the duration of the game, UW put the Boilermakers’ quarterbacks on lockdown, as the defensive line accounted for three of the team’s five sacks and four of the team’s nine tackles for a loss.
It helped as well that Wisconsin faced its first quarterback in conference play since UTEP who didn’t use his feet as much as his arm to make plays. After facing Nebraska’s speedy Taylor Martinez and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase, Wisconsin was finally able to rush without worrying about containment on the outside.
“We did a great job against their protection and we got a lot of good pressure on their quarterback so I think we had a good defensive performance today,” Allen said. “We finally played four quarters.”
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