Free safety Dezmen Southward says improving Wisconsin's secondary is simply a matter of execution. - Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
After two crushing losses, the Badgers' secondary is eyeing Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game as a chance for redemption.
In a season that has been plagued by three overtime losses, Wisconsin has struggled to close the door in late-game situations.
In two of the Badgers' three overtime losses, a late lead eventually gave way to a loss in overtime. The lone exception came in the Ohio State game, when Wisconsin surmounted a 14-point deficit to force extra time.
In last Saturday's overtime loss to Penn State, Wisconsin entered the second half with a seven-point cushion, but was dominated in the third and fourth quarters as the Nittany Lions gained 247 yards on three scoring drives, including a 41-yard passing touchdown in the fourth quarter to give PSU the lead.
Secondary coach Ben Strickland knows the Badgers' performance on Saturday was not acceptable, and he expects more of his players in Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game.
"It's just execution," Strickland said. "We make a call, whatever that call is, those guys have to execute it and they know it. They know they can do better, [the coaches] know we can do better and we'll just take it as a learning experience, move on and make sure it doesn't happen next time."
UW's regular-season finale was eerily similar to the overtime loss suffered at the hands of Michigan State just a month earlier at Camp Randall Stadium. Just as the Nittany Lions were able to do, the Spartans engineered a late scoring drive, tying the game with a 12-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute left.
Junior free safety Dezmen Southward, who has one interception and 52 tackles this season, says the key to holding leads is consistency.
"You can't prepare to keep a lead," Southward said. "The only thing you can prepare to do is just be consistent in the things that you see and just executing for four quarters, because what does it mean to be great for 3 1/2 quarters? We've seen that side of the story, so we definitely understand what we have to do. I think it is about being consistent in what we are doing."
In both losses to Penn State and Michigan State, Wisconsin surrendered over 200 yards passing, as well as a total of three passing touchdowns.
Now, UW has its sights set on a rematch with Nebraska on Saturday.
Although Nebraska is ranked eighth the country in rushing, the Cornhuskers were still able to put up 181 passing yards and two passing touchdowns on the Badgers in their Sept. 29 30-27 win in Lincoln.
Strickland says Nebraska will use its dominant running game to open up the passing game.
"The biggest thing [Nebraska] does is obviously the run game, and then the play-action passes to compliment it," Strickland said. "So, we just have to be great with our eyes and our keys and understanding what our responsibilities are. [The secondary] knows we have to defend the play-action balls. When we are needed in the run game on our fits, we have to make sure that we are in the right spots. Again, that just comes down to reading keys, doing our jobs and being disciplined."
Wisconsin's defense will get a boost on Saturday when redshirt junior linebacker Chris Borland suits up after missing the last two games to injury.
Fellow linebacker, senior Mike Taylor, knows what Borland means to UW's defense and says the junior will bring confidence to the unit.
"I think [getting Borland back] is a big boost," Taylor said. "Obviously Chris is a great part of the middle and he's a great tackler. He makes plays and I think he just gives the defense overall a boost of confidence and a little more swag running to the ball."
After the two straight overtime losses, Wisconsin must prepare to avenge the earlier loss to Nebraska this Saturday at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. Southward believes after losing two close games in a row, the Badgers will come out ready to play in their second consecutive Big Ten title game.
"After any loss, you are eager to get back out on the field," Southward said. "I think you'll see with this team, we are pretty resilient. We are a bunch of guys that are never going to give up and we love fighting, and we will fight together for four quarters."