WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — No. 6 Wisconsin did everything it could to get back in the College Football Playoff chase Saturday.
It's probably going to take more than a blowout at Purdue.
T.J. Watt returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown, and the Badgers scored 35 points in the final 8 minutes of the first half of a 49-20 victory against the lowly Boilermakers.
Now comes the hard part: Figuring out if Wisconsin belongs in college football's Final Four.
“When we looked at our schedule, we thought that there wasn't one that we couldn't win,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “We thought we would win every one of them. We did a good job focusing from week to week.”
To have any chance, the Badgers must keep winning. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2, No. 7 CFP) has won five straight and can clinch the Big Ten's West Division title with a win next weekend.
Two more victories, and the Badgers would be right in the mix. But to pull that off, they are going to need a better start than they had against Purdue, when they were hampered by a stagnant ground game, ineffective passing attack and struggling defense.
Then coach Paul Chryst inserted fifth-year senior Bart Houston at QB, and everything changed. The opening-day starter immediately led Wisconsin on an 87-yard drive that ended with Alec Ingold's 1-yard plunge for a 7-3 lead. Watt picked off David Blough on the next offensive play.
Bradrick Shaw scored on a 7-yard run with 3:03 left in the half. After another Blough interception, Houston hooked up with a wide-open Ingold on a 19-yard TD pass and Shaw added a 33-yard TD run in the last minute of the half.
All the Boilermakers (3-8, 1-7) mustered during the stretch was a 75-yard TD pass from Blough to DeAngelo Yancey.
“I have to do my job,” Blough said. “I can't do my job just half the time. The turnovers hurt. We can't turn it over and expect to be in the game against one of the top teams in the country. With those two interceptions, it was one big joke with one batted ball and then another batted ball.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers didn't get the help they needed to wrap up the West, but the win certainly keeps their playoff hopes alive.
Purdue: There's one week to go in the Boilermakers' dismal season. But 18 players and probably most, if not all, of the coaching staff said goodbye to Ross-Ade Stadium in front of a scant crowd.
Wisconsin linebackers Watt and T.J. Edwards took turns celebrating. In the first half, both deflected Blough passes, came down with the ball and each turnover led to a touchdown. On Purdue's opening possession of the second half, Edwards and Watt also came up with sacks of Blough.
“What a play by T.J. (Watt),” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “To knock it down is a really good play. To get a pick is a really good play. To do both that changed (the game).”
Wisconsin: The Badgers entered with 14 interceptions and padded that total with three more in the first half, giving them seven in the past two weeks. … Wisconsin has produced a 100-yard rusher in six straight games. … The defense has allowed only five touchdowns in five road games this season. … Clement became the 17th rusher in school history to top the 1,000-yard mark. … Houston was 5 of 6 for 102 yards with one TD, and Hornibrook was 7 of 9 for 89 yards with one TD pass.
Purdue: Blough was 14 of 30 for 206 yards with two TDs. Yancey caught six passes for 155 yards and two scores. … After being outscored 114-17 in the second halves of the past four games, the Boilermakers had only a 14-10 deficit in the final 30 minutes Saturday. … Defensive lineman Jake Replogle returned from a concussion to play in his home finale.
Wisconsin: Will try to keep the Paul Bunyan Axe for a 13th consecutive year when it hosts Minnesota.
Purdue: Hopes to snap a three-game losing streak against rival Indiana. The Boilermakers haven't lost the Old Oaken Bucket in four straight years since the 1940s.