WEST LAFAYETTE - For two weeks, the Wisconsin football team talked about focusing on Purdue and not taking any team lightly, especially on the road.
That didn't stop the Boilermakers from making things interesting Saturday against the Badgers at Ross-Ade Stadium. For two quarters, Purdue controlled the game, leading 10-3 at the half before Wisconsin dominated the final 30 minutes for the 34-13 victory.
Coming out in the second half, the Badgers turned the game around with something they had lacked this season entering Saturday's game: turnovers.
"We did think at halftime, after we kind of saw their offensive plan, that we might be able to get our hands on a couple balls," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We talked about being opportunistic, and obviously that started off the second half pretty good."
On its opening drive of the second half, Purdue faced 3rd-and-5 on its own 25-yard line. A Sean Robinson pass was intercepted by Culmer St. Jean, who returned it 14 yards to the 18-yard line.
St. Jean's grab set up a 7-yard touchdown reception by Jared Abbrederis in the back of the end zone, giving Wisconsin its first lead at 13-10, and setting the tone for the final two quarters of play.
"I was just trying to be opportunistic and make a play," St. Jean said. "I was able to get that and that was able to trigger the whole team to just keep rolling."
"When you can come out and get a turnover like that right away, it obviously sparks your whole defense and it sparks your team," J.J. Watt said. "That was a great way to start the half for us and obviously steamrolled through the rest of the half."
St. Jean's interception was the second turnover of the day for the Wisconsin defense. On the Boilermakers' first possession of the second quarter, Robinson found Antavian Edison on 2nd-and-10 at the Wisconsin 31-yard line, but Edison fumbled the ball to Antonio Fenelus, who picked it up and ran to the Purdue 27-yard line.
Fenelus' recovery and return stopped what looked to be Purdue's second scoring drive of the day, while also setting Wisconsin up for its first points, a 44-yard Philip Welch field goal.
"Huge," Bielema said of the fumble. "They were going in for a score there. I was holding my breath on that challenge, because that challenge came in pretty quick. … Fortunately for us we were able to get points there."
Following the fumble and subsequent Wisconsin field goal, the Badgers limited the Boilermakers to just two Carson Wiggs field goals, despite falling behind 7-0 early. With a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, Mike Taylor added his name to the list of those that secured turnovers for UW.
Taylor made an impressive play on a second down Robinson pass, making the interception at the Purdue 40-yard line and returning it 26 yards before he was tripped up at the 14-yard line. On the day, Taylor had six tackles, two for loss, one sack and one interception.
Following a 1-yard loss on first down, Montee Ball rushed 15 yards for an easy touchdown, giving the Badgers a 27-13 lead and all but putting the game out of reach for the Boilermakers. Ball's touchdown run was his second of the day, as he rushed for a season-high 127 yards on 21 carries.
"The one I liked the most was one of our zone plays that we had," Ball said of his touchdown run. "I hit the cut back and just hit it up for like 10 yards or so. That was nice. The line did a great job of giving me the hole and I just hit it."
On the very next drive for Purdue, it was Fenelus who struck again, shutting the door on any potential Boilermaker comeback.
Robinson threw incomplete on first down, setting up 2nd-and-10 at his own 31-yard line. Fenelus jumped in front of the pass, and returned it 31 yards for the score. With the lead up to 34-13, the Badgers' second half resurgence made the final score look as if it had been in control the entire time.
Not only that, with a fumble recovery and three interceptions, Wisconsin nearly doubled its season total of interceptions after entering with 11 through nine games.
"I said last week I think turnovers kind of come in bunches," Taylor said. "You get one and everybody gets hyped up."
His head coach agreed.
"As long as I've been in this game, it seems like the more you try to emphasize it, they don't come, and then all of a sudden they come in a flurry," Bielema said. "The kids really did a good job. You've got to catch those passes, you've got to get them in the end zone, and they were able to do that."