WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Late in the first half Saturday afternoon, the members of the University of Wisconsin football team’s offensive line looked up at the scoreboard at Ross-Ade Stadium and noticed the Badgers already had amassed nearly 200 rushing yards.
At that point, interim offensive line coach Bart Miller issued a challenge to his charges.
“Let’s get to 400,” he told them.
That UW was able to accomplish that goal made a 38-14 victory over Purdue that much sweeter to a unit that was sick of hearing how much it had underachieved this season.
The Badgers finished with 467 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in program history and their most since a 499-yard effort vs. Hawaii on Nov. 30, 1996.
“That,” said Ryan Groy, a junior lineman from Middleton, “was awesome.”
Senior tailback Montee Ball finished with 247 yards, three touchdowns and five of UW’s seven runs of 20 yards or longer.
In all, UW finished with 16 runs of at least 10 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt.
“They did a great job today,” Ball said of his line, which excelled despite playing more than a half without its most acclaimed member, senior left tackle Ricky Wagner. “Every day, I’ve been seeing them get better and better.”
UW came into the game averaging 133.5 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per attempt, placing it next-to-last in the Big Ten Conference in both categories.
Most of the blame for those atrocious numbers fell on the offensive line, which struggled so much early in the season that its original coach, Mike Markuson, was fired after two games and replaced by Miller.
Groy and Co. heard the criticism and acknowledged most of it was deserved. They also knew there was only one thing that was going to make it go away.
“If people think that we’re not playing up to how we should, that’s going to irritate guys and motivate them to play better,” sophomore right guard Kyle Costigan said. “It’s a good thing.”
UW didn’t skip a beat after Wagner sustained an apparent right knee injury late in the second quarter. Junior Zac Matthias was inserted at left guard for Groy, who moved over to left tackle, and the Badgers produced 210 rushing yards after halftime.
“We’re very judgmental on ourselves,” Groy said. “But we knew we could be a lot better than we were and that we played all year. It was a good finish to a game, and it was finally a four-quarter game we played.”