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September 21, 2013

A step back









MADISON, Wis. - The momentum is gone.

No. 24 Wisconsin made sure of that.

New coaching staff, new offense, new defense, new leaders, none of it mattered.

The Badgers continued their dominance over Purdue in similar fashion: They ran over and through the Boilermakers.

Wisconsin racked up 388 yards rushing, had a pair of backs go over 100 yards for the second consecutive season, and cruised to a 41-10 victory that left Purdue coach Darrell Hazell stunned.

Especially considering the first-year coach thought his team made progress last week, taking rival and 21st-ranked Notre Dame to the final quarter.

But the Boilermakers (1-3) took a step back in their Big Ten opener.

"Right now we have to do a good job as a football team of soul searching," Hazell said. "Obviously that's not the way Purdue football wants to play, and we need to get a lot better. It was a pretty close ball game early, missed some tackles, didn't convert third downs and when you play a good football team like Wisconsin, those things seem to spiral on you. It got out of hand in the third quarter pretty quickly.

"Obviously we have to take a long look at ourselves, coaches and players, and make sure we're taking the correct steps to make sure Purdue football gets better."

Pick an area for improvement after this one - few units performed well.

The defense knew it'd be challenged, facing the nation's fifth-best rushing offense with a line that was filled with physical, 300-plus-pounders and explosive backs.

It did not respond.

Wisconsin (3-1) had 214 rushing yards by halftime and accomplished it by simply being more physical and more assignment-sound.

The Badgers' offensive linemen did a great job pulling and reaching Purdue's linebackers and often either smothered them or pushed them out of a play.

And when the Boilermakers were in the right place, they couldn't deliver.

On Wisconsin's first touchdown drive - a 95-yard one - Will Lucas and Sean Robinson missed tackles on one play; Taylor Richards whiffed two plays later; Armstead Williams got juked; Lucas and Anthony Brown came up empty on the next; and, on Melvin Gordon's five-yard touchdown run, Joe Gilliam was there but got beat on a cutback and was left with a weak arm tackle attempt.

Sophomore superstar Gordon and starter James White aren't going to be taken down by arm tackles.

And they weren't.

Ever.

Gordon rushed for 147 yards and three TDs on 16 carries - a whopping average of 9.2 yards. White had a 70-yard touchdown run and finished with 145 yards on 16 carries, a 9.1-yard average.

Purdue's defense knew exactly what it was in for and still couldn't stop it.

Richards called the unit's performance "minimal," as Wisconsin piled up 546 yards and had scoring drives that covered 95, 79, 75, 33, 68, 69 and 61 yards.

Bruce Gaston said the defense is still trying to find its identity, but it wants to be "dominant," physical and fast. It wasn't any of them on Saturday.

"Sometimes we didn't stay poised like we were supposed to," Gaston said. "We were in position to make plays. We were in position to get TFLs and tackles, but we didn't. We know that we're definitely capable of doing that, so we have to just get better.

"We all have to step up, practice better, play better, play faster, play harder and when we're in position to make plays, we have to make them. Sometimes that's what separates the score. When you're in position to make plays, you have to make them."

Same could be said for Purdue's offense.

The Boilermakers were within 14-7 and had the ball first-and-goal from the 10-yard line after Ricardo Allen's interception in the second quarter.

But their inability to produce in the red zone reared its head again.

Akeem Hunt got five yards on a first-down pitch but then was buried for a loss of two on second, trying to run wide but finding no place to cut upfield. On third down from the seven, Rob Henry tried a three-step drop and delivered a pass into the end zone. The closest "receiver" was a Wisconsin player who dropped an interception.

Purdue had to settle for a 24-yard field goal.

Then Wisconsin ripped off a 75-yard drive for a TD, Purdue's offense went three-and-out and the Badgers drained 5:09 off the clock to end a drive with a field goal just before halftime for a 24-10 lead.

Purdue's four series in the second half: 41 yards.

"We didn't go out and execute as well in those critical moments when we could have gotten ourselves back in the game and keep battling," said Henry, who was 18-for-36 for only 135 yards and an interception. "That's something we have to do is execute when the game gets tight and when we need to."

That'll be one focus next week, when Purdue has a brief respite from conference play when Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois comes to Ross-Ade Stadium.

But it won't be the only one.

"Lack of execution on offense and lack of (tackling) on defense were probably the two biggest culprits of the day," Hazell said. "You're looking at a 14-10 football game, and they drive it down the field on us and score again, and the offense can't stay on the field. We're three-and-out, three-and-out, I don't know how many three-and-out series we had. So that puts more pressure on the defense. So it's a whole team thing that we've got to get fixed."







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