WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — For one half Saturday, Joel Stave looked like the quarterback who nearly led Wisconsin to last year’s Big Ten title game.
Running back Melvin Gordon savored the moment.
With the Heisman Trophy candidate rushing for 205 yards and one touchdown, and Stave throwing for a season best 219 yards and two touchdowns, No 25. Wisconsin pulled away from Purdue 34-16 and improved its chances to chase yet another conference championship.
“Our receivers did a good job getting open, and Stave played amazing, especially in the first half,” Gordon said. “When he was able to drive us down there twice in the second quarter and score, it shows how hard he has been working. He played through a lot of adversity.”
Stave, who lost his starting job before the season and hadn’t thrown a pass in Wisconsin’s first four games, was brilliant early.
He went 15 of 19 for 190 yards with two touchdown passes in just two quarters.
Even more impressive was how Stave used a series of laser-like throws to convert third downs and followed up with two beautiful touch passes for scores as the Badgers drove into a stiff wind. Stave played so well that coach Gary Andersen scrapped his plan to rotate quarterbacks for a while. Stave wasn’t bothered one bit by the chilly, blustery conditions at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“We know that playing in November, the weather is not going to be great, but today really wasn’t too bad,” Stave said after going 19 of 29 for 219 yards and threw one interception in the second half.
With Gordon running over and around defenders yet again, that was more than enough for the Badgers.
Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten, No. 25 CFP) has won four straight, the last three by 18 or more points, nine straight in the series and six straight in West Lafayette, Indiana. And though the Badgers still find themselves in a three-way tie atop the West Division, they know that if Stave and Gordon continue playing this way, they could be headed back to Indianapolis next month for another conference championship game.
Their stingy defense was pretty good, too.
It allowed 230 total yards, limited the Boilermakers (3-7, 1-5) to 26 yards rushing on 26 carries, had four sacks, 10 tackles for loss and only one major breakdown — a 79-yard third-quarter TD pass from Austin Appleby to Akeem Hunt that got Purdue within 24-16.
After that, Appleby was under constant duress. He finished 17 of 37 with 204 yards and the one score.
“We’ve got to execute better. It’s not one of us, it’s not one particular spot. We’ve got to throw strikes accurately,” Appleby said after Purdue’s fourth straight loss. “I’ve got to get it out quicker. I’ve got to hit these guys running and we’ve got to get open and make plays.”
Things didn’t go exactly according to Wisconsin’s script either.
After Gordon’s first score, a 14-yard run, gave Wisconsin a 7-3 lead, his next helped turn the game.
Gordon caught Stave’s lob pass in stride on the sideline and got it into the end zone after hurdling Purdue cornerback Leroy Clark at the goal line. The 27-yard score made it 17-6. Stave closed the half with a brilliant final drive capped by Alex Erickson’s 9-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone with 32 seconds to go for a 24-6 halftime lead.
“I thought Wisconsin did a good job of something you probably didn’t think they were going to do a whole lot of and that was throwing the football,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said “I thought they came out and threw the football very well. That was (something) that they had not shown on film.”
But the Badgers bogged down in the second half.
Gordon fumbled on the second offensive play, and Paul Griggs converted it into a 52-yard field goal. The Purdue kicker also made a 53-yarder in the first half, becoming the first player in school history with two field goals of 50 or more yards in one game.
Wisconsin turned it over on downs at the Purdue 16 and three plays later Appleby connected with Hunt on the long TD pass.
The Boilermakers had a chance to get even closer when it appeared Raheem Mostert recovered an onside kick, but the replay overturned the call and Wisconsin clinched the game on Tanner McEvoy’s 14-yard TD run with 1:05 left in the third quarter.
It’s a combination the Badgers have been waiting all season to see.
“Our balance on offense definitely was a step in the right direction,” Andersen said. “We ran the ball well at times, and we threw the ball well at times. That mix was good to see.”
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