Wisconsin showed no ill effects from desert depression as the No. 24 Badgers whipped Purdue 41-10 on Saturday in the Big Ten opener.
A week after the Badgers saw the final seconds melt away in a loss at Arizona State, Wisconsin responded like they always do: They ran the football.
"It was very important," said senior running back James White, who leads all active FBS players with 35 career rushing touchdowns and 36 total scores. "We had to put last week in the past and get ready for Big Ten play, which is what really matters. I think last week will just give us an edge for the rest of the season."
Melvin Gordon may have put his name in the Heisman Trophy ballot box by once again leading a rushing effort that left the Boilermakers helpless as they loaded the box to try and stop it.
Gordon wowed the standing-room crowd of 80,772 at Camp Randall with 147 yards and three touchdowns. It's the fourth straight week that Gordon has amassed at least 140 rushing yards with a score. Even though he had an impressive 9.2 yards per carry on Saturday, his career rushing average actually went down from 10.1 to 9.95.
"It was pretty open but don't get me wrong: Purdue, their line, was a lot faster and more athletic than I thought they were on film, so they kind of shocked me," said Gordon, whose 624 rushing yards this season surpassed last year's total of 621. "They had me redirecting my feet, so I give a shout-out to their D-line."
It seems each week brings a career high for Gordon, who had career highs for rushing attempts and touchdowns against the Boilermakers.
Early on, it appeared that Purdue was going to make the game interesting. Akeem Hunt put the Boilermakers in great field position with a 45-yard kickoff return. Seven plays later, Purdue quarterback Rob Henry ran for a 22-yard touchdown.
Then Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave had his third-and-8 pass intercepted by cornerback Ricardo Allen, who returned it 27 yards to the Wisconsin 10.
But with a tie staring Wisconsin in the face, the Badgers defense held the Boilermakers on three plays, thanks to an athletic pass breakup on third down by senior inside linebacker Chris Borland.
"Credit Wisconsin's defense," said Purdue senior quarterback Rob Henry, who completed 18-of-36 for 135 yards and an interception. "But really what it comes down to is I was inaccurate and we need to win one-on-one battles."
Henry totaled nine incompletions on third down, as the Boilermakers were just 2-for-14 on third down.
After the Boilermakers settled for the 24-yard field goal, that's all they could muster on offense. But defensively, it got a lot worse.
"When you play a good team like Wisconsin, those things seem to spiral on you," Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said, "and it got out of hand in the third quarter pretty quickly."
Gordon wasn't the only one who ran roughshod on a defense that held Notre Dame to 91 yards rushing last week. White rolled up 145 yards on the ground, including an electrifying career-long 70-yard touchdown run. He slalom-skied his way to the end zone by leaving several diving defenders in his wake as he moved into 10th place on the Wisconsin rushing list with 3,013 career yards.
"Obviously, I believe we have two NFL backs playing for us now," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "They're just so dynamic, their ability to make people miss. They really kind of complement each other with the running styles, in my opinion. So they're special kids. The third guy out there on the field is not too bad either."
The Wisconsin defense also turned up the heat on Henry. Coming into the game, Wisconsin had registered one sack this season, but Henry was taken down four times and was routinely flushed out of the pocket.
Things didn't get much better on the ground as Purdue totaled just 45 yards rushing. The Wisconsin defense is allowing just 76.3 rushing yards per game this year.
"I thought we had a good week of practice. I thought we were pretty prepared," said Purdue junior tight end Justin Sinz, who is a native of Edgar, Wis., and had a throng of family and friends in the stands. "Obviously playing in a venue like this it's not easy to communicate. But I don't know if it's a lack of execution or communication or we'll have to watch the film. We're better than this."
Next week, the Badgers travel to Ohio State, where they have not won since 2004.
"We are very excited," Borland said. "It's a huge game. It means a lot. I grew up an hour away, so I have a lot of friends and family that go there."
NOTES: Wisconsin senior NT Beau Allen continued the tradition that coach Gary Andersen started by running out of the tunnel to begin the game with the United States flag. That transitioned perfectly after the first quarter when Army mom Jane Renee Lund surprised 13-year-old daughter Bella with a homecoming on the Camp Randall Stadium turf, causing the stadium to roar with approval. ... The Badgers have won five straight Big Ten home openers, dating to 2009, and 10 of their last 11 dating to 2003. ... The Badgers have beaten Purdue eight straight times and four straight in Madison. ... White moved past Brent Moss and into seventh place on the Badgers' career touchdown rushing list with 36 after his 70-yarder in the first quarter. ... Purdue's defense came into the game holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry, and the Badgers averaged a hefty 8.1. "Obviously we need to take a long look at ourselves, coaches and players and make sure we're taking the right steps to make sure Purdue football gets better," Hazell said.