Wisconsin defense review: Badgers clip Tennessee Tech's offense

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

How'd Wisconsin's defense fare in Week 2? Which areas need improvement before facing Arizona State?

Another week, another goose egg for Wisconsin's defense. After a lot of talk last week about the threat of Tennessee Tech quarterback Darius Stone, the Badgers' defense followed up its week one performance with an even more dominant one against their FCS opponent.

Numbers to notice

1958: The last time Wisconsin pitched back-to-back shutouts to open the season

1998: The last time Wisconsin pitched two shutouts in any one season

113: Total yards gained by Tennessee Tech, the ninth-lowest total given up by a Badgers defense in program history

11: Quarters since Wisconsin's defense has allowed a touchdown, dating back to the 2013 Rose Bowl

6: Three-and-outs for the Tennessee Tech offense

6: First downs gained by the Tennessee Tech offense. Wisconsin's all-time record for the least amount of first downs given up in a game is five.

5: Tackles for loss by Wisconsin's defense, compared to zero the week before

4: Penalties Tennessee Tech's offense committed (two, an illegal substitution and false start penalty, were accepted)

2.3: Average yards per play for Tennessee Tech

2: Number of turnovers forced by senior linebacker Conor O'Neill and co. (2013 prediction: 25)

2-of-13: Tennessee Tech's third-down efficiency

What went right

What didn't? The Badgers didn't show much of their hand but still handled a true spread offense run by the Golden Eagles.

Quarterback Darius Stone and his offense ran 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end) in shotgun formation for the most part, sometimes with the tight end split out in the slot, sometimes in a three-point stance on the strong side. Wisconsin countered with the same four types of schemes seen against UMass:

  • Base 3-4 odd front
  • Even front with 3-4 personnel, with senior linebacker Brendan Kelly lining up as the four linemen, although his hand is still not in the ground
  • A nickel defense with two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs (a 2-4-5 look)
  • A formation with one linemen, four linebackers and what appeared to be six defensive backs (a 1-4-6 look)

The last was the most intriguing, as Wisconsin deployed this one-lineman look, often with senior Tyler Dippel, rushing the quarterback with three linebackers. Often it was shown with Dippel as the nose guard and two backers, often Kelly and senior linebacker Chris Borland lined up as pseudo-defensive ends standing up, with a third linebacker like senior Ethan Armstrong often being the fourth rusher. Used less than a handful of times last week against UMass, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda utilized it more against a truer spread look, often to the defense's advantage.

Used a lot on third down, Stone and co. only converted once on that down when seeing that look, the rest with negative results, whether forced to punt or succumbing to a Leo Musso interception, for the Golden Eagles. It was one of the reasons why Tennessee Tech did not drive past the 47-yard line of Wisconsin.

Thought there would be a drop off with junior linebacker Derek Landisch being out with an injury? O'Neill looked the part next to Borland, recording nine tackles and 1.5 TFLs in his first career start. It will be interesting to see if Landisch, who is listed as the starter with the asterisk-like "OR" behind his name on the depth chart this week, is healthy enough to start against Sparky, or if O'Neill will again start.

The secondary wasn't challenged as much, but two starters, sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary and senior safety Dezmen Southward, started day out right forcing and recovering a Stephen Bush fumble, respectively. Musso also intercepted the secondary's second pass of the year in the fourth, and safety Michael Caputo came up with a nice TFL and was flying around the field.

No sacks again this week, but the four types of looks brought pressure and confused the offensive line early and often. The Badgers came close at least a handful of times to getting a sack, although they did record five TFLs.

What went wrong

Again, it's hard to tell what went wrong with this defense. Tennessee Tech never crossed farther than Wisconsin's 45-yard line, and it never allowed more than two first downs in a single series. There are always some assignment errors or mistakes, but against an FCS team like the Golden Eagles, they're not as glaring. You'll see what areas need more improvement this weekend in Tempe.

Although Wisconsin's defenders forced two turnovers, they have personally stated their goal is at least three a game, which is lofty. If they come up with three turnovers against their Pac-12 foe, the chances of victory increase exponentially.

Final thoughts

Wisconsin's defense set the tone against Tennessee Tech in the first 10 seconds of the game and never let the Golden Eagles feel comfortable. This final tune-up before the Badgers' first real test this Saturday against Arizona State allowed them to play another spread-like offense while not showing many unique flavors for the second straight week of allowing no points.

In five days at Sun Devil Stadium, expect the defense to face similar looks to what it's had to deal with early this season, but at a talent level far greater and far more explosive. Head coach Gary Andersen knows the evolution of the spread offense has made it increasingly difficult to scheme and defend against, and it will not be just one challenge Aranda and his defense will have to account for.

"It's not just the triple option attack with a very athletic quarterback," Andersen said this week. It's not so much just the throw back, the four wide throw and the zone read scheme. It's a combination of all.

"And I think what you see is where it's really going is a lot like what Arizona State has done and they're doing now. And it is there's a lot to it. It's assignment football, more so than just it usually is in more of a traditional offense."

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