Badgers own the trenches in win at Purdue

Wisconsin is slowly beginning to look like its dominant self of old.

Wisconsin continues to show improvement offensively, and the Badgers are slowly beginning to look like the dominant team of old. Wisconsin manhandled Purdue for a 38-14 victory on Saturday to take control of the Leaders Division.

The Badgers (5-2, 2-1 in Big Ten play) now hold the head-to-head advantage against Purdue and Illinois in the Leaders, and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game is coming into focus.

Here are five things we learned from Saturday's game:

1. Wisconsin's offensive line is turning the corner.

If the offensive line can shoulder the blame for a rough start to the season, it deserves credit for improvement.

Line success is often determined by how well the running game looks at Wisconsin, and it couldn't have looked much better all around against Purdue on Saturday. The statistics were downright jaw dropping.

Wisconsin carried the ball 57 times for 467 yards and four touchdowns. That's an average of 8.2 yards per carry. The ringleader in the backfield was senior Montee Ball, who produced one of the finest games of his college career — and that's saying something considering how good he was last year.

Ball finished the game with 29 carries for 247 yards and three touchdowns. He made some nice moves on his own — the cutback for a 67-yard touchdown run was one of them — but the offensive line produced plenty of holes.

James White (124 yards, one touchdown) and Melvin Gordon (80 yards) also came out with big days. It was a win for Wisconsin and a big win for the team's offensive line.

Wisconsin controlled the ball for 38 minutes, 42 seconds. Purdue had the ball for just 21:18.

2. The defense continues to shine.

Things couldn't have looked worse for the Badgers' defense on the opening play of Saturday's game. Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush hit receiver Antavian Edison for a 52-yard pass down to the 1-yard-line.

But if you take away that play, and an 81-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run with the game out of reach, Wisconsin dominated on defense.

The Purdue quarterback combination of TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry didn't do much. They completed 11 of 31 passes for 124 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The Boilermakers gained 128 yards rushing, but 81 came on one play.

Wisconsin entered the day ranked No. 28 nationally in scoring defense (19.2 points per game), and that number dropped again on Saturday.

3. Tight end Jacob Pedersen is returning to form.

Given the tremendous year Pedersen produced in the receiving game last season, some wondered what happened to him in 2012. On Saturday, he showed he is still fully capable of achieving some big numbers.

Pedersen caught four passes for a team-high 77 yards, including an early touchdown that tied the game 7-7. Receiver Jared Abbrederis, the team's leading pass catcher all season, also registered four catches.

Pedersen entered the day with just 10 catches this season for 111 yards and a touchdown. Last season, he caught 30 passes for 358 yards with eight touchdowns.

It's probably no coincidence that his big game came when the running game excelled. Successful runs opened up the passing game and allowed Pedersen to slip free for some nice catches.

4. Kick troubles persist.

A week ago, kicker Kyle French drilled a momentum-swinging 46-yard field goal against Illinois. The kick gave Wisconsin a 10-7 lead, and the Badgers did not trail the rest of the way.

French has a nice leg, but he needs to develop more consistency. On Saturday, he made just 1 of 3 field goal tries. French's missed kicks, which both occurred in the first half, meant Wisconsin entered halftime leading Purdue just 17-7, even though the Badgers completely dominated play.

This season, French is 5 for 8 on field goal tries, and although the misses didn't come back to haunt Wisconsin on Saturday, similar miscues could bite back in future games.

5. The Leaders Division belongs to the Badgers.

Wisconsin players and coaches can downplay it all they want, but Saturday's victory was significant. Essentially, it gives the Badgers a three-game edge against Purdue, which was the only serious threat to Wisconsin's divisional reign.

Wisconsin is 2-1 in the Big Ten and Purdue is 0-2. Neither Illinois nor Indiana has shown it can compete in the conference, and Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible for postseason play.

It's been a bumpy ride for the Badgers through seven weeks, but the Big Ten season could not have set up much better. Barring a major collapse, Wisconsin will represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game for a second year in a row.

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.