After looking like the team to beat in the Big Ten following monumental wins over Ohio State and Iowa, Wisconsin looked nothing like a squad sitting in first place for the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game in West Lafayette.
They looked rusty, slow and unmotivated.
Well, whatever coach Bret Bielema said to his team at halftime, it worked. The Badgers turned a 10-6 halftime deficit into a 34-13 win and kept pace with Michigan State and Iowa atop the Big Ten standings (Ohio State had the weekend off).
Yes, any road win in the Big Ten is a good win, but Wisconsin can't afford any more first-half performances like the one they had Saturday. The final score may not indicate it, but this game was much closer than it should have been.
Here are my grades.
Even though the Badger offense still put up 27 points on Saturday, this was one of the more uninspiring performances of the year.
Although the offense was undoubtedly hindered by the early exit of running back John Clay, it still didn't seem in rhythm even when he was in the game.
Clay managed only 42 yards on 12 carries and was ineffective for the most part. Montee Ball more than filled in for him as he rushed 21 times for a career-high 127 yards and two touchdowns and provided the offensive spark in the second half.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien had another efficient day, completing 13 of 19 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. He did throw an interception in the first quarter.
After missing the game two weeks ago against Iowa, wide receiver Nick Toon made up for lost time on Saturday, catching five passes for 62 yards.
Still, the Badgers managed just 303 yards of total offense, way below their season average. Of course, they still put points on the board and that's all that really matters, but sub-par performances this late in the season could be costly.
No, Purdue's offense isn't what you would call explosive. In fact, the Boilermakers may have the worst offensive unit in the Big Ten.
With a freshman starting at quarterback, you couldn't have expected a whole lot from their "O" on Saturday.
But, the Wisconsin "D" was undoubtedly the key to the win Saturday.
J.J. Watt and company held the Boilermakers to only 13 points and 303 yards of total offense, as well as forced four turnovers. Culmer St. Jean, Mike Taylor and Antonio Fenelus all recorded interceptions off quarterback Sean Robinson. Fenelus returned his pick 36 yards to the house and recovered a fumble, returning it for considerable yardage.
Robinson completed only 19 of 38 attempts, throwing for 141 yards and Purdue's only touchdown.
Purdue did find some success on the ground, running for 162 yards as a team, but Wisconsin was able to keep them from breaking any long runs.
Saturday was definitely one of Wisconsin's strongest defensive performances in 2010.
Although David Gilreath had a nice punt return (27 yards) and kicker Philip Welch connected on 2 of his 3 field goal attempts, Wisconsin's special teams didn't produce their strongest effort Saturday.
Welch's first field goal attempt of 40 yards was ugly. Whether the hold was bad or if Welch simply miskicked it, that field goal never had a chance.
The Badger kickoff coverage was somewhat shaky. Although Purdue kick returner Al-Terek McBurse never broke off a long return, he did average almost 27 yards on five returns.
Luckily for Wisconsin, Welch's field goal miss and the fact that Purdue usually had decent starting field position following kickoffs didn't come back to bite the Badgers. Against a better team, it might.
Although by no means the prettiest of victories, Wisconsin's win on Saturday against Purdue was important nonetheless.
And in some respects, you could maybe write off the first half as being a product of rust following a one-week layoff.
But if Wisconsin is going to run the table the rest of the way, they can't hope to overcome deficits in the second half every game. In the Big House against Michigan, a first-half performance like this could spell doom for Wisconsin. The Wolverines just scored 67 points against Illinois. Wisconsin will need all the offense it can muster.
Winning in Purdue—even in front of only 45,000 people—is nothing to scoff at. The Boilermakers could smell an upset after going into the locker rooms with a four-point lead. Yet Wisconsin came out on fire in the second half and ended that notion before it really even began.
Definitely not perfect, but at this point in the season, perfection isn't needed. Just wins.