WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — Paul Chryst and the University of Wisconsin football team ended its eight-game losing streak against ranked opponents Saturday.
A 30-13 win over No. 25 Purdue snapped a skid that extended back to 2019, when the then-ranked No. 13 Badgers beat No. 9 Minnesota 38-17 to close the regular season before losing the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl that season to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Oregon, respectively, kicking off the ranked losing streak.
The Badgers (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) lost three straight games against ranked teams this season — to Penn State (No. 19) in Week 1, Notre Dame (12) in Week 4 and Michigan (14) in Week 5.
Saturday’s victory also extended UW’s dominance over the Boilermakers to 15 straight games.
The Badgers will face another ranked team next week when No. 11 Iowa visits Camp Randall Stadium.
90 yards, no problem
The Badgers pieced together two 90-yard touchdown drives for the first time this season.
Jake Ferguson’s successful conversion on third-and-15 midway through UW’s second drive of the game, off a middle tight end screen, resuscitated a drive that appeared to have stalled after consecutive offensive penalties.
That, plus Chez Mellusi’s six carries for 34 yards, eventually set up Braelon Allen’s 4-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0 early.
Then in the third quarter, Allen, who sat on the sidelines much of the game after his second fumble of the day, set up Mellusi when he broke off a 70-yarder on the first play of a 94-yard drive. It took two more plays to finish the drive as Mellusi rushed for 4 and 20 yards, the latter an athletic display in which he spun out of a backfield tackle and beat Purdue’s defense to pay dirt for a 20-13 lead.
Tight ends hurting
UW already had a numbers problem at tight end before kickoff. That only got worse as the game progressed.
The Badgers’ pregame status report included four tight ends that weren’t available for the game — Jack Eschenbach, Clay Cundiff, Hayden Rucci and Cole Dakovich. That left Ferguson, Jaylan Franklin and Cam Large as the only remaining true tight ends that made the trip.
Large then went down with a leg injury in the first quarter and was ruled out almost immediately. He was seen coming out of the medical tent on the sideline on crutches before being taken from the field in a cart. Large was seen after the game on crutches.
Ferguson, who had two receptions for 23 yards entering the fourth quarter, was escorted off the field by trainers after sustaining an injury shortly after the period began. He returned on UW’s next offensive drive.
Fumbles a problem
Ball security has been an issue for the Badgers throughout the season, and they entered Saturday averaging 2.5 giveaways per game.
The problem continued in the first half, with two lost fumbles leading to all of Purdue’s 13 points. Allen, the freshman tailback, had two in the first half, but the one he lost set up a short field and the Boilermakers put together a four-play, 39-yard touchdown drive.
“A lot of times, it comes from a good place,” Chryst said about Allen’s fumbles. “You’re trying to do … not do too much, but you don’t want to give on the play and you keep going. Those are things that really every player learns. His intention isn’t to go out and put it on the ground. He’ll continue to grow from it.”
Sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz’s second-quarter fumble on a sack led to a 56-yard return for a touchdown.
Junior punt returner Dean Engram muffed a first-quarter punt and Mellusi fumbled on a third-quarter carry, but the Badgers were able to recover those miscues.
New kick returners
UW had to debut new kick returners to replace sophomore receiver Devin Chandler, who entered the transfer portal Monday.
Sophomore wide receiver Chimere Dike and senior cornerback Faion Hicks took over the role, but neither did much with limited opportunities. Dike had two returns for a total of 34 yards, but he nearly fumbled on his second after he was flipped into the air by a low tackle. Hicks fair caught his only attempt, but his fair-catch signal wasn’t immediately seen by one referee, who called the ball down at the UW 1-yard line until other officials corrected the play.