MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Jonathan Taylor and the offense stumbled after a fast start, and then finished strong in typical Wisconsin fashion by grinding out a clock-chewing drive.
The seventh-ranked Badgers’ defense, on the other hand, maintained its elite level of play throughout.
Taylor ran for 219 yards on 30 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown , and Wisconsin relied on its stifling D to overcome a three-turnover afternoon and beat Purdue 17-9 on Saturday.
Alex Hornibrook was 13 of 18 for 199 yards and a score but threw two interceptions for the Badgers, who held on to beat another division foe and take a commanding lead in the Big Ten West.
Defense saved the game for Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0).
“The biggest thing is, we see it as an opportunity for us to make plays,” linebacker Ryan Connelly said about helping out the choppy offense. “We see it as our chance to (say) ‘OK, we’ll be the ones to pull them out of this.’”
It happened again and again on a rainy afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
Purdue (3-3, 1-2) drove from its 39 to the Wisconsin 7 before outside linebacker Leon Jacobs stepped in front of receiver Jackson Anthrop and stayed inbounds for an interception with 8:14 left in the game.
Quarterback Elijah Sindelar was under heavy pressure. Jacobs came in from behind to battle for the ball.
“He and I both tipped the ball, but I just caught it,” Jacobs said.
The Badgers’ punishing ground game ran out the clock from there with a 16-play, 77-yard drive, getting 32 yards rushing on two important carries from backup Garrett Groshek.
“A great response by the offense to finish that game with the ball in their hands,” coach Paul Chryst said.
The Badgers were penalized eight times. They lost three turnovers and had a punt blocked but still managed to win because their defense held the Boilermakers to just three points over the four ensuing series.
The Badgers could have sealed their latest win much earlier, but the normally reliable Taylor fumbled at the Purdue 4 on the first play of the fourth quarter. The defense held again on that drive and forced another punt.
Purdue settled for three field goals, two from Spencer Evans.
“It was not enough execution. That’s a good defense and they put it to us,” coach Jeff Brohm said. “I think we hung in there and we could do a few things but the defense did a good job and they stopped us.”
Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley led Purdue with 12 tackles, while cornerback Da’Wan Hunte and defensive end Danny Ezechukwu each had interceptions.
The Purdue defense recovered after giving up the long touchdown run to Taylor on the game’s opening drive. Receiver Danny Davis threw a key block on fellow freshman Taylor’s 67-yard scamper up the middle for a 7-0 lead with 13:35 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin is the only unbeaten team left in the West, and every team but Nebraska already has two defeats — and the Badgers beat the Cornhuskers last week.
Purdue: The fact that the Boilermakers hung around into the fourth quarter speaks volumes about how much the defense has improved in just one season under first-year coach Brohm. It was especially impressive given that Purdue played without linebacker and leading tackler T.J. McCollum (ankle/knee). Purdue had 12 takeaways coming into the game.
“The turnovers were big for us,” Brohm said. “They gave us a chance to score points. We just could not capitalize offensively.”
Wisconsin: The defense held up in the second half in spite of losing two key players. Starting inside linebacker T.J. Edwards was ejected for targeting with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, and defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk limped off the field in the first quarter with a left leg injury. But coordinator Jim Leonhard has depth and athleticism across the field.
Taylor said the wet conditions didn’t factor into his fumble, but that he should have kept two hands on the ball when defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal knocked it loose. Taylor ran for more than 200 yards for the third time this year.
Purdue was outgained 295-66 on the ground, while Sindelar finished 13 of 29 for 155 yards. David Blough also rotated in at quarterback but didn’t have a pass attempt and was sacked twice.
“That one hurts,” Sindelar said. “Offensively, we’ve got to do a better job capitalizing.”
Purdue: At Rutgers on Oct. 21.
Wisconsin: Hosts Maryland on Oct. 21 in a homecoming weekend game.
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