For much of last season, Wisconsin's pass rush started and ended with J.J. Watt. He accounted for seven of Wisconsin's 23 sacks in 2010 and was generally a menace to opposing offensive linemen. This was especially true in Wisconsin's win over then-No. 1 Ohio State, when he seemed to be in the backfield on every play the Buckeyes ran.
But Watt is a Houston Texan now, and much of the offseason talk surrounding the Badgers' defense had to do with replacing his pass rush presence. Last season, Wisconsin ranked in the bottom half of the FBS in sacks, so new defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge had their work cut out for them when it came to finding ways to pressure the quarterback.They haven't shown many unfamiliar packages in Wisconsin's first two games, but I wouldn't be surprised to see something new from them against former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren's Northern Illinois squad.
Whatever the Badgers' defense does against the Huskies, expect defensive end David Gilbert to lead the charge when it comes to pressuring Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish. Gilbert underwent an impressive physical transformation in the offseason. After putting on 15 pounds of muscle since the Rose Bowl, Gilbert is no longer the undersized speed rusher we've seen used mostly in passing situations in the past. He and fellow starting end Louis Nzegwu each already have two sacks. If they show that kind of ability to get to the quarterback against an experienced Northern Illinois offensive line this weekend, it could be a sign of big things to come for the Badgers' pass rush.
One downside to Wisconsin's early season offensive success is the fact that we haven't seen too much of starting punter and occasional rushing extraordinaire Brad Nortman, Bret Bielema called him one of the best punters in the country, and Nortman's stats, even though the sample size is small, back that statement up.
If you'd like to read another Dave Doeren-Bret Bielema story, here's one from ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.
Wisconsin's offensive line seems pretty upset by its performance in the first half against Oregon State.
Here's an interesting nugget from ESPN's Brian Bennet: the Badgers are one of only four teams in the nation who have yet to turn the ball over.
Dave Heller compiled his weekly list of predictions. The Badgers are once again the unanimous favorites. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page for some statistics as well.
Dave Doeren has worked really, really hard to promote the Huskies in his short time at Northern Illinois. It's easy to respect a guy who jumps out of a plane and sings "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" at Wrigley Field for his team.
You may have already seen this in John's post last night, but sophomore Ethan Armstrong will make his second straight start at outside linebacker. Regular starter Kevin Claxton will play despite recovering from a broken wrist, but the coaches thought Armstrong played well enough last week to limit Claxton's snaps as his wrist heals. Safety-turned-linebacker Conor O'Neill will also get some snaps against the Huskies' pass-heavy offense.
Scott Van Pelt, notorious lover of all things Madison, likened Russell Wilson to "Terrelle Pryor with a better arm" on his radio show. (The bit about Wisconsin is at the end.) While I'm not sure that's the best description for Wilson, I always love to hear Van Pelt rave about what he calls "the best college town in the United States."