Wisconsin defense review: Through five games, Badgers adapting to 3-4

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers are 3-2. Their defense appears improved and adapting well to the new scheme implemented, albeit with some things to work on.

A bye week is always a time of rest for players, to get away a bit from the game and concentrate on studies and exams ahead. For writers like me, it means I don't have to chart plays for four hours out of my weekend (but unfortunately, a HUGE "Honey-Do" List awaited me from my better half).

There's no game to look over, no schemes to break down until Saturday's contest at Camp Randall Stadium. What we can do is look at the first five games of the year and examinet what went right and what went wrong with Wisconsin's defense.

Numbers to look at

6th: Ranking for Wisconsin for total defense in the nation, giving up 272.6 yards per game (second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State)

10th: Ranking for Wisconsin for scoring defense in the nation, giving up 14.6 yards per game (second in the Big Ten, again, behind Michigan State)

12th: National ranking for Wisconsin in rush defense -- 99.4 yards per game (fifth in Big Ten)

13th: National ranking for Wisconsin in pass defense -- 173.2 yards per game (second in Big Ten, behind, you guessed it, Michigan State)

+2: Turnover margin for Badgers on the season (3 fumble recoveries + 4 interceptions - 5 turnovers by Badgers' offense), tied for 49th in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten

24-of-74: Badgers' opponents 3rd-down efficiency (32 percenet), sixth in the Big Ten and 31st in the nation

7: Number of sacks by Wisconsin's defense, tied for ninth in Big Ten

What went right

  • Chris Borland. Third in the Big Ten conference in tackles heading into this week, the senior inside linebacker is the heart and soul of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense. He's stopped a bulldozer in Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde on a 4th-and-1. He's flown across the field in the first games of the season.
  • Warren Herring. The junior defensive lineman's third in the Big Ten in sacks with three. He and Beau Allen have been nice complements to each other at nose guard, and his 4.5 tackles for loss are 10th in the Big Ten.
  • Confused offenses. Although their sack numbers aren't necessarily as high as they'd like, the way Aranda sends his four rushers has worked nicely to confuse and at times overwhelm their opponents' offense. The different looks Aranda has shown so far have been effective.
  • Sojourn Shelton. The true freshman has had his teaching moments at times early on, but he leads the team in interceptions and has shown his potential early on.
  • Conor O'Neill. The senior linebacker has stepped in for an injured Derek Landisch and done so quite admirably. He's second on the team in tackles and has consistently put on pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
  • Second-half adjustments against Ohio State. Despite giving up 269 yards and 24 points in the first half to Braxton Miller and company, the Badgers rebounded to give up only 121 yards and a touchdown in the last two quarters.

What went wrong

  • Big plays given up on first and second down. Ohio State averaged almost nine yards per carry in the first half on first down, and seven on second down. Arizona State gained some yardage, as well. Those were against up-tempo, no-huddle spread and pistol looks with potent talent.
  • Secondary versus Ohio State, Arizona State. Sun Devils receiver Jaelen Strong had the back-shoulder receptions from quarterback Taylor Kelly, along with six penalties against the secondary and missed assignments helped lead to four touchdown passes by Miller. "We can't give up the big play on defense. We're young on the back end, but youth is not an excuse," head coach Gary Andersen said Monday. "It does not matter. We've got to get better. We can't let people get behind us. We've got to get better on third downs on defense overall." Safety Dezmen Southward and company did rebound nicely in the second half versus the Buckeyes.
  • Turnovers. Wisconsin has only seven takeaways on the year. Borland and the defense has set a goal of three per week, but Andersen knows that although it's a weekly point of emphasis, turnovers tend to come in bunches. "I've been through this before where you work like crazy to get turnovers and it's a point of emphasis, and it doesn't come your way as much as you want it to, and then it kind of flip flops," Andersen said. The bye week's allowed some evaluation period to add some possible new wrinkles. "So we look at ourselves and say, we have to create more turnovers on defense," Andersen added later Monday. "What does that mean? There's a couple of tweaks possibly in the scheme."

Final thoughts

No. 19 Northwestern comes into Madison after a tough 40-30 loss at the hands of the Buckeyes. Expect the Wildcats to give the Badgers all they can handle this weekend.

"They have two very talented quarterbacks, and some guys that make that offense go and run at a high level," Andersen said. "Again, it's not just one kid, it's four, five, or six special players, and the rest of the supporting cast does a very, very nice job for them. It's a good football team."

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