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Wisconsin football: Grading Badgers’ win vs. Purdue

What on earth did we just watch?

For three-and-a-half quarters against the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers struggled, playing the same ugly, grinding football that cost them the Penn State game (and the BYU game, and the Northwestern game…).

With the hour running late in regulation, however, wide receiver Danny Davis III hauled in an amazing, one-handed touchdown catch to cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 27–20. Six minutes and three overtimes later, Wisconsin capped a remarkable comeback to win 47–44.

Jonathan Taylor was the story, rushing for 321 yards on 33 carries and three touchdowns, including two in overtime. The sophomore reignited Heisman Trophy discussions with a truly dominant, game-saving performance.

Here are the unit grades:

Offense: B+

With six minutes remaining in the game, this grade was a D. Then Taylor and Davis ran wild.

Quarterback Jack Coan threw for 160 yards on 16-of-24 passing and two touchdowns. The sophomore’s decision-making remained suspect at times, like when he took a sack late in the first half that cost Wisconsin a touchdown, but Coan managed the comeback well and his second touchdown to Davis may have been his best throw as Badger.

Running back Jonathan Taylor had a career day, starting with an 80-yard touchdown run at the start of the second half, aided by a great hustle block by wide receiver Kendric Pryor, and ending with the game-winning score in the third overtime.

Taylor set a Wisconsin record for most rushing yards against Purdue, scoring two of the three Wisconsin touchdowns in overtime. He was flat-out unstoppable in the extra sessions, wrecking havoc on a gassed Purdue defense.

Defense: C-

The defense bent but didn’t break (much) in the first half, allowing Purdue quarterback David Blough to throw for over 200 yards in the first two quarters, but tightening in the red zone, holding the Boilermakers to just 10 points in the half.

The second half and overtime were a different story, however, as the Boilermakers rang up 34 points, taking advantage of Wisconsin’s young secondary.

Mostly bottled up in the first half, Purdue freshman Rondale Moore gashed the Badgers for nine catches, 114 yards, and two scores.

The Badgers held when it counted, though, forcing a field goal in the third overtime. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was a force, making 10 tackles, including two sacks, and forcing a big fumble in the first quarter that prevented a Boilermakers touchdown.

Penalties, particularly in the secondary, were costly and would have been the story of the game had Taylor and David not been transcendent.

Special Teams: C-

Kicker Rafael Gaglianone was 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts and made his all of his extra-point attempts. Punter Connor Allen averaged 36.5 yards on six punts, but had a huge 50-yarder late in the fourth quarter that flipped the field and helped Wisconsin get the game to overtime.

The kick and punt return units had issues. Jack Dunn made some interesting choices late, allowing some Purdue punts to go unfielded and costing Wisconsin yardage. A holding penalty wiped out a 58-yard Aron Cruickshank kick-off return to start the second half. A punt bounced off of Caesar Williams’s foot leading to a Purdue recovery and field goal.

Coaching: C+

For three-and-a-half quarters, Wisconsin looked uncharacteristically sloppy and unfocused. Penalties hurt the Badgers badly, particularly on defense and special teams, to the tune of 13 for 171 yards. The special-teams unit had a number of mental errors. The young secondary got torched repeatedly in the second half.

Head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph opened up the playbook a bit for Coan, running a less conservative game plan than in past weeks. Coan’s struggles continued, but he has shown growth from his first start against Northwestern.

Overall: A

What a bizarre, sloppy, exhilarating, season-defining win.

Despite the myriad of issues, this game enters the history books as a Wisconsin all-timer. From Taylor’s full-scale destruction of the Purdue defense to Davis’s fantastic touchdown catches to Van Ginkel’s sideline-to-sideline play, the excellence and resilience shown in this win was outstanding, greater than the sum of its parts.

Despite the up-and-down performances from many, this one gets an A overall if for no other reason than I will be watching the last six minutes and three overtimes on BTN in perpetuity.

I suspect so will you.

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