MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Graham Mertz likes the direction that Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard is taking the Badgers
Mertz threw for two touchdowns, Braelon Allen rushed for 113 yards and a score and Wisconsin defeated Purdue 35-24 on Saturday.
John Torchio had two interceptions, including a 31-yard return for a touchdown for the Badgers (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten Conference), who rebounded from a 34-28 double overtime loss at Michigan State.
The game marked the first home win for Leonhard, who took over for Paul Chryst on Oct. 2.
“I appreciate everything he’s done, the energy he’s brought; he’s done a great job of rallying us and giving us a great plan to go succeed,” Mertz said of Leonhard, a former Wisconsin player and Badgers defensive coordinator who has led the team to a 2-1 record.
Allen, who surpassed 100 yards for the fifth time this season, went to the injury tent late in the third quarter with a left arm injury but returned in the fourth.
Mertz went 13 of 21 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for the Badgers, who have won 16 straight games against Purdue.
Purdue’s four-game winning streak was snapped and the Boilermakers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) fell one game behind Illinois for the lead in the Big Ten West standings.
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said he was disappointed in the Boilermakers’ effort, especially allowing Wisconsin to take a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.
“We dug ourselves a hole early, and without question, couldn’t get out of it,” Brohm said. “Our team doesn’t have a lot of margin for error, and we can’t do that.
“We did fight to the end but it was not a good day for our football team. Wisconsin flat out beat us.”
The Badgers scored on their opening drive as Mertz threw a 29-yard touchdown strike to Skyler Bell.
Less than one minute later, Torchio picked off Aidan O’Connell and dashed 31 yards for a touchdown. for the score that increased Wisconsin’s lead to 14-0.
Leonhard said that he was pleased with the Badgers’ fast start, along with the communication on the sideline and on the field.
“They had confidence in what we were asking them to do, and they finished,” Leonhard said. “They made some big plays and got a ton of momentum and energy in the stadium.”
Allen’s 14-yard touchdown made it 28-3 in the first minute of the second half.
The Boilermakers capitalized on a fumble to get a short field, scoring on an eight-yard pass from from O’Connell to Payne Durham. But that was quickly negated with a 54-yard burst by Isaac Guerendo 90 seconds later.
THE TAKE AWAY
Purdue: The Boilermakers defense entered the game ranked 91st nationally with 248.4 yards per game. They gave up 378 yards, including 203 passing yards.
Wisconsin: The Badgers entered with a 79.2 percent success rate (19 of 24) in red-zone scoring, which ranked second in the league behind Ohio State. They were 1 of 1 on red-zone opportunities against Purdue.
Wisconsin was without the team’s sack leader and best pass rusher as outside linebacker Nick Herbig did not play.
Leonhard said that Herbig was “banged up” and limited during practice leading up to the Purdue game. Herbig might’ve seen action, if the game dictated the need.
“We knew we would have him on a very limited pitch count if he was going to be available,” Leonhard said. “As the flow of the game happened, we were able to keep him off the field, which I think is the best decision for him.”
BREAK IN THE ACTION
Leonhard, who spent seven seasons as the Badgers defensive coordinator, said a byne next week will be a good time to talk to the players about what the future will look like if he takes over the program on a permanent basis.
“I’m excited to kind of let them see a little bit of what the vision would be, but there’s still work to do here in the second half of the season to make it a reality,” he said.
Purdue: Host Iowa on Saturday.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have an open date next weekend. The Badgers host Maryland on Nov. 5.
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