WEST LAFAYETTE — Wisconsin running back Montee Ball slipped by a couple of would-be tacklers in the backfield on the second play from scrimmage of the second half Saturday against Purdue. The Badgers’ running back then sprinted 67 yards for a touchdown.
And just like that, any hopes for a Leaders Division title slipped away for Purdue.
Ball rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns as Wisconsin defeated Purdue 38-14 in front of 46,007 fans on a rainy homecoming at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“We just didn’t play good. It’s just that simple,” strong safety Landon Feichter said. The Bishop Dwenger graduate led Purdue with 12 tackles and had one interception. “We missed too many tackles. We didn’t play Purdue football today.”
Ball had more yards (261 total) than Purdue. The Boilermakers had 252 yards of total offense.
“I needed this,” Ball said. “I wasn’t doing too well earlier on in the season and things weren’t going my way. I’m just playing for my teammates now. I’m becoming the player they were looking for.”
The Boilermakers (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) couldn’t stop the run for the second straight week (Wisconsin had 467 rushing yards; last week Michigan had 304 rushing yards). And for the second straight week, the result was a big loss.
“(Ball is) a hard runner. Conditions when it’s wet and slippery make it a little tougher, but there are still no excuses. We need to bring him down better than we did,” Feichter said.
Last week, both coaches tried to downplay the importance of the game But with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible this season, and Illinois and Indiana off to slow starts, the winner of Saturday’s game had an inside track on representing the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game.
“We’re going to have to play catch-up,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said of the race.
Purdue struggled on offense and defense.
Quarterback Caleb TerBush had 80 passing yards, 52 coming on the first play from scrimmage. He was 7 of 16 with one interception. Robert Marve was 3 of 9 for 43 yards. Wisconsin had five sacks.
“I was not pleased with the quarterback performance today. I was not pleased with the performance of the offensive line. I was not pleased with the performance of the wide receivers,” Hope said.
Hope did not make the quarterbacks available for postgame interviews.
Purdue rushed for 128 yards, with 81 coming on a late touchdown run by Akeem Hunt. Ralph Bolden returned from a knee injury he suffered in the final game of the last year’s regular season and had seven yards on four carries.
But this game was all about Ball’s running – and Purdue’s inability to stop the run.
“We knew they were going to run the ball,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “We just had to stop it. They had success on it.”
Ball scored on a 3-yard run to give the Badgers a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) led 17-7 at halftime.
Ball began the second half with his dazzling 67-yard run, essentially putting the game out of reach.
“We have to rally up and do better,” Hope said. “We have talented players. We’re going to bounce back and prove our worth to one another and to our fan base as well.”