The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) finished their 2019 home schedule undefeated Saturday with a decisive 45–24 victory against the Purdue Boilermakers (4-7, 3-5).
The victory marked the final time Badger fans will see the likes of Zack Baun, Chris Orr, A.J. Taylor, Zach Hintze — more on him later — and the rest of the senior class at home in their college careers, with Tyler Biadasz and Jonathan Taylor likely to join the list come NFL Draft season.
The Badger win also kept pace with the No. 9 Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-1, 7-1) in the Big Ten West race, a race that will be decided when the two teams take the field in Minneapolis, Minnesota this Saturday.
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Here are three takeaways, and a few leftovers, from Saturday’s victory:
First, Head Coach Paul Chryst continues to innovate on offense.
It sounds like a broken record at this point, but Chryst has always been known to run an extremely traditional offense, one built around the run game and winning in the trenches.
This year, Chryst has been reversing his timeless trends. Who would have ever thought a Chryst-led Badger team would convert 11 of 13 chances on fourth down, lead the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage and have 30 handoffs to wide receivers? Not many.
Against Purdue Saturday, Chryst’s innovation was effective from start to finish.
Case one: Wide receiver Aron Cruickshank’s 27-yard wildcat touchdown run with 11:29 left in the first quarter.
Case two: Running back Garrett Groshek’s 6-yard wildcat touchdown run with 5:59 left in the third quarter.
In total, Chryst handed the ball off to a wide receiver eight times for 113 yards Saturday, good for 14.1 yards-per-carry.
Chryst has real playmakers on the offensive side of the football, and Saturday he found a way to get the ball into their hands all day long.
The second takeaway from Saturday is that Jack Coan’s arm strength still leaves something to be desired.
Coan connected with Quintez Cephus on a back-shoulder throw for a 29-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. The throw was perfect, and the 20-30 yard range has been Coan’s sweet spot all season long as he’s found Cephus and other receivers countless times for touchdowns in that window.
Later in the game, however, Coan had Cephus running free 40+ yards down the field and grossly underthrew him, leading to an interception.
Coan has been efficient all season long, but Saturday’s interception was a bad one and isn’t a great sign heading into Minneapolis.
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The third takeaway from Saturday is how Zach Hintze ended the first half.
Hintze is known as a kickoff specialist, someone who prides himself on having the leg strength to kick the ball through the end zone time after time.
Hintze’s 62-yard field goal to end the first half wasn’t just a Wisconsin school record; it shifted the entire momentum of the game as the teams went into halftime. The score before the field goal? 21–17. The score after the field goal? 24–7.
Leftovers from Saturday’s action:
Taylor fumbled two more times Saturday and now has five fumbles on the season, four of them lost to the other team. He did, however, finish with over 200 yards for the third straight game
Cephus showed out again, finishing with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown
The defense struggled yet again with big plays in the first half, though they dominated Purdue in the second half.