2014 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin defense motivated after Penn State loss

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin's defense feels like it didn't represent itself well during the team's regular-season finale against Penn State. The Badgers plan on taking advantage of one more opportunity to end the season on a high note.

MADISON -- Dave Aranda didn't speak to anybody after Wisconsin's loss to Penn State.

The Badgers' frustrated defensive coordinator had just watched his team uncharacteristically allow a number of big plays in the 31-24 defeat, and he was dealing with the burden of placing the blame on himself.

There were calls he'd like back, particularly one in which he misread a Nittany Lions formation, resulting in a blown coverage. Even more so, he felt he didn't do enough to ensure the Badgers' defense practiced with the energy and focus needed when preparing for a Big Ten opponent.

"It's one of those things that you felt, and I just didn't say anything," he said. "I didn't stomp it out. That's my responsibility. I take responsibility for that. I don't feel I did a good enough job getting our guys ready to play.

"It's something you learn from. That was one of those games where you reevaluate everything that you've done to that point, everything you do, whether right or wrong. You look at all of it."

Hindsight, it seems, can often be the best form of motivation, and many Wisconsin players would likely join Aranda in owning up to the disappointment of the outlier performance from two weeks ago.

The Capital One Bowl against South Carolina on New Year's Day has since become an opportunity for the Badgers' defense to end the season on a high note, rather than spend the entire offseason with fresh memories from the Penn State game.

"A lot of us got kind of a sick feeling in our stomach sitting around with this loss," senior outside linebacker Brendan Kelly said. "One of the bad things about losing your last game at home before the bowl game is that you have a whole month until you play again, so you kind of sit with that loss for four weeks. We definitely don't want to end with a loss."

And the Gamecocks look to present a much tougher challenge than the Nittany Lions did.

South Carolina won 10 games with an SEC schedule and tacked on an impressive victory over Clemson to end its regular season.

Along with second-team All-SEC performer Mike Davis in the backfield, Wisconsin will have to deal with a dual-threat quarterback in Connor Shaw that Aranda said has gained ultimate respect around his conference.

"[He] is the heart and soul of the team. I would compare him to how Chris Borland is for us on defense." -Dave Aranda on Connor Shaw

"Coaches that I've talked to have a lot of respect for him and said, ‘Don't underestimate him,'" Aranda said. "Every coach I talk to in that league speaks very, very highly of him, and it's evident on tape. [He] is the heart and soul of the team. I would compare him to how Chris Borland is for us on defense."

Shaw has produced some standout performances throughout his career. Perhaps most notably, he played through a sprained left knee to lead the Gamecocks to a 17-point, fourth-quarter comeback against a top-five Missouri team on the road earlier this season.

His talent allows for South Carolina to show a multitude of looks at the line of scrimmage, and Shaw also has proven the ability to read a defense and adjust plays before the snap.

"It's very much a cat-and-mouse game," Aranda said. "They look over every play. They want to see what you're in, and they call a play to attack whatever you're in, so that's going to be a good match going back and forth."

It's a type of offensive attack that requires the focus Wisconsin didn't show in the week leading up to the Penn State loss, and one that Aranda is thankful to have extra time to prepare for.

The Badgers, though, are eager to leave a better closing impression on the 2013 season.

"There were a lot of plays out there [against Penn State] that we didn't make that in plenty of other games we made consistently," true freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. "Being one of the top defenses in the country, you always have that fire to go back out the next game and show whoever that you've improved and you've corrected the mistakes.

"As a team, as a defense, we know that wasn't us against Penn State, and our goal is just to get back to it. We've corrected the mistakes, and we're ready to get back to the defense that we have been [playing]."

Quick hits

-- Senior safety Dezmen Southward had a cast on his left wrist Wednesday and rode an exercise bike during the conditioning portion of practice. Southward said earlier this week that he had surgery on that wrist to fix a minor problem that has been nagging him all season, but he expects to play against South Carolina.

-- Sophomore safety Michael Caputo wore a green non-contact jersey during practice Wednesday. He missed the Badgers' regular-season finale against Penn State with a concussion but also expects to play in the Capital One Bowl.

-- After Wednesday's practice, sophomore safety Tanner McEvoy told multiple media outlets that he will try to compete for the starting quarterback job this spring.

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