Purdue vs. Wisconsin: 10 Things We Learned in Badgers' Win
The Wisconsin Badgers rebounded after a frustrating loss to Arizona State and opened the 2013 Big Ten season with a 41-10 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers.
Gary Andersen's Badgers were on the wrong side of a referee controversy last week, as explained here by Bleacher Report's Andrew Coppens. But they put that loss behind them and dominated the Boilermakers on Saturday.
So with only a week to go before the Badgers face the highly ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, what have we learned about them?
Here are 10 things I observed while watching Saturday's contest.
Running Back James White Is Very Good
The Badgers are well known for their ability to run the football, dating back to Ron Dayne and as recently as Montee Ball. And despite a new head coach running the show on the sideline, the running game remains the identity for Wisconsin.
James White is the veteran runner of the stable of talented backs in Madison, and he finished with 145 yards on 16 carries, including an impressive 70-yard touchdown.
The ABC broadcast mentioned that White considered transferring while sitting behind Ball last season, and he still has competition in the backfield this season. But it's clear the Badgers are better off with White in town.
Wisconsin will need multiple running backs to carry the ball as often as they want to this season. White will be a key part of the Badgers offense throughout the Big Ten season.
Running Back Melvin Gordon Is Even Better
The final numbers for Melvin Gordon and his teammate James White may seem very similar. But it was clear while watching the game that Gordon is a special talent who will contend for awards and accolades at the end of the season, and he's the running back the Badgers will use in key situations this year.
Gordon showed great vision, burst, balance and power while running the ball, and he won every head-to-head encounter he had with Purdue defenders, always falling forward and gaining extra yards.
The Purdue defense isn't the toughest he'll face this season, but he showed that it was nowhere near his level of talent. It will be very interesting to see how he performs against Ohio State, because it seems he has the raw talent and ability to be a dominant player.
And given the help he has on the offensive line, he's primed to add up some huge numbers, which include his 147 yards and three touchdowns Saturday against Purdue.
The Jet Sweep Is an Excellent Addition to the Power Running Attack
Wisconsin is well known for its power running and dominance in the trenches on offense, but it's the addition of the jet sweep that may give this offense the boost it needs to confuse and control opposing defenses.
Check out this article from John Veldhuis of Badger Blitz, who presents the diagrams and details as to what the jet sweep does to a defense. In short, it distracts players on defense and forces them to make tough decisions in an instant. We saw that against Purdue.
Multiple times when the Badgers would send a man in motion for a potential jet sweep, defenders for Purdue would freeze. And with truly great running backs in the backfield and on the jet sweep, the defense can't cheat and favor one option or the other.
This is why having White and Gordon is a huge bonus for the Badgers, as they can put both of them on the field and force defenses to choose which one to focus on.
The Wisconsin Offensive Line Is Dominant
The running backs for Wisconsin deserve plenty of praise, but they don't matter at all without help from their offensive line.
And thankfully for Wisconsin, the offensive line does more than just help. It sets the table for the running game and opens up huge rushing lanes.
There was always room to run for the Badgers on Saturday against Purdue, and that will be a constant all season.
The line also protected well for Joel Stave, who was only sacked once on the day.
Jared Abbrederis Can Do It All
The Wisconsin offense has been focused on the running game for much of the last decade, but it's a former walk-on at wide receiver who continues to impress for the Badgers.
Jared Abbrederis is a team captain, and he leads by example by doing everything needed of a wide receiver in the Wisconsin offense.
He was the primary target in the passing game, routinely getting open and making plays in space. But he didn't stop there. He chipped in with a carry on an end around run for a first down and provided excellent blocking for the running game.
The Badgers don't have an explosive passing game, so they have to rely on Abbrederis for almost everything in the air. He's talented enough to provide plenty of production, but he could certainly use some help.
Joel Stave Is the Weak Link on Offense
Stave is the starting quarterback for the Badgers, but he's far from the focal point of the offense. His role is simply to keep the defense honest and make the occasional play while protecting the football.
The sophomore quarterback didn't exactly do that on Saturday.
Stave missed on a few throws, including one to an open Abbrederis deep down the field. The Badgers didn't need Stave to make those throws, but his inability to throw accurately is a concern moving forward for Wisconsin.
It was Stave's interception thrown, which turned into points for Purdue on the ensuing drive, which should worry Badgers fans the most. He made a bad throw after making a bad read and a bad decision. That cannot happen, because the Badgers aren't built to play from behind.
Stave cannot make mistakes, because turnovers lead to points for the opponent, and that takes Wisconsin out of its game plan.
The Wisconsin Pass Rush Is Consistent and Relentless
The Badgers sacked Purdue quarterback Rob Henry three times and forced him to scramble and throw the ball away on a good amount of dropbacks on Saturday. That's encouraging for the Badgers, as they'll need this pass rush moving forward.
Henry is a mobile quarterback who struggled to even break contain against the Wisconsin defense, who swarmed to the football with limited blitzing. Henry did not have a good game, but a lot of it can be attributed to the constant pressure he faced.
Warren Herring, pictured above, chipped in with one of the sacks from his defensive tackle position on a play where the Badgers only rushed four players. Getting pressure with limited pass-rushers is the key to a successful and balanced defense, and Wisconsin put that on display against Purdue.
The Badgers Tackle Well, Led by Chris Borland
The Purdue defense struggled to bring down any Badgers runners on Saturday, but the opposite can be said about the Wisconsin defense.
Led by senior inside linebacker Chris Borland, the Badgers tackled well and prevented big plays from breaking loose.
Purdue didn't take any shots down the field, and that meant Wisconsin could keep everything in front of them. But that only works if a team can tackle, which the Badgers did very well on Saturday.
Borland led the team with six stops and showed why he's likely to catch on in the NFL after his college days are over. He's not the tallest or fastest linebacker ever, but he's smart and finishes plays with good technique and effort. That won't go unnoticed next spring at the NFL draft.
True Freshman Sojourn Shelton Has a Nose for the Football
As you can see in the video above, cornerback Sojourn Shelton loves having the football in his hands. And even though he's a true freshman defensive back, he's still finding ways to get the ball and run with it.
Shelton already has two interceptions this season, including one Saturday in the fourth quarter. Shelton is a promising young player for the Badgers, who clearly see something in this young man to allow him to play so early in his career.
He's clearly got plenty of athletic ability, so it will be interesting to see if his role continues to grow in the Badgers defense as the year goes on. He's certainly turned some heads so far with his pair of interceptions in his first month as a college athlete.
This Wisconsin Team Is Resilient
Last week at this time, the Badgers were left wondering what happened, and why they never got a chance to kick a game-winning field goal against Arizona State.
They could have let that discourage and distract them for their Big Ten opener and fallen apart in the adversity.
Head coach Gary Andersen rallied his team and refocused them for an important game against Purdue, which would set the tone for a tough stretch of games against conference foes. They came out of the gates a bit slow, but once the running game got going, the Badgers never looked back.
Wisconsin may have lost its chance for an undefeated season, but it's still in contention for the Big Ten title. It faces its biggest test next week against the Buckeyes.
And even if the Badgers fall behind or are on the wrong end of a call against Ohio State, they now have the confidence that they can overcome adversity, and that's a valuable asset over the course of a long college football season.