Let's take a moment to recognize the fact that Wisconsin's defense has been solid this season. Not outstanding, mind you, but good enough, certainly. Wisconsin ranks 18th in the FBS in rush defense, giving up just over 107 yards per game at 3.43 yards per carry. They rank 14th in the country (2nd in the Big Ten behind Illinois) in allowing opponents to convert just 30.66 percent of their third downs. Even the pass defense has been stout, statistically. Wisconsin is allowing just 5.9 yards per attempt (t-17th in the country) and an opponent passer rating of 118.55 (34th) on the year.
Yet they rank near the bottom of the FBS in one key area: Nine out of every ten times an opponent makes their way into the red zone, they come away with points. And not just field goals. Out of every trip, 65 percent result in a touchdown. That ranks 89th in the FBS, and belies Wisconsin's bend-don't-break axiom. The 2011 defense was only modestly better, allowing opponents to score 84.38 percent of the time with a 59.38 touchdown percentage. In 2010, the numbers jump back up to 88.24 and 61.76 percent.
What exactly is causing of Wisconsin's red zone woes is still a mystery. Wisconsin has done a respectable job punishing opposing quarterbacks with 20 sacks (2.22 per game) on the season. Turnovers may be the biggest culprit, with just nine forced (four INTs) to rank 106th in the nation. Then again, the 2011 and 2010 defenses that were much better at forcing turnovers (33rd and 49th in FBS, respectively) had the same problems.
Last week, we saw how hard it can be to hold fast when it really matters. A Michigan State offense that Wisconsin had bullied throughout the game found the end zone on its final two trips inside the 20, sealing the win for the Spartans. Unfortunately, the solution to what has become a perennial problem under Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash is yet unknown.
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