MADISON, Wis. -- When Dave Doeren took the head coaching position at Northern Illinois, it was clear the Badgers wouldn't have to wait long to see their former defensive coordinator. The Badgers and the Huskies were already scheduled to play each other at Chicago's Soldier Field when Doeren took the job in December. His replacement, Chris Ash, said playing against Doeren presents a few challenges for his defense.
"The challenges are obvious in that he knows our personnel, strengths and weaknesses, he knows a lot about what we do on defense," Ash said Sunday in a meeting with reporters. "We've made some changes, but there are a lot of things that are the same."
This will be the fourth matchup between the two teams since 2002, but all of the previous games have been in Madison. Wisconsin leads the all-time series 11-1, but leaving the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium means sacrificing their usual home-field advantage. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst preferred to downplay the history between the two coaching staffs.
"We're playing Northern Illinois. They've got a lot of good players, and obviously they'll be well coached," Chryst said. "We've gotta make sure we take care of our business."
Ash echoed Chryst's comments, emphasizing how important keeping the "1-0" mindset would be for his players.
"It's not about Dave, this game is about us," Ash said. "That's the way we approach every game regardless of who we're playing. We have to go out and execute and they have to go out and beat us."
Chryst emphasizes execution
When the normally strong Wisconsin rushing attack stalled early against Oregon State, Russell Wilson was there to pick up his teammates. The new Badger quarterback threw for three touchdowns in the first half, giving Wisconsin a 21-0 lead heading into halftime. As for the running game, Chryst said he definitely saw room for improvement.
"I think just across the board, we could have been more on our targets and done a better job of finishing," Chryst said. "Offensive football is about execution, and when everyone is on the same page and executing and finishing you've got a chance for good plays. If not, you'll have some ugly ones."
While running back Montee Ball finished the game with 121 yards and two touchdowns after a slow start, Chryst said there's always room for improvement.
"It's always about getting better. Each game, each play, each series, whatever it is- it's a continual process of getting better."
Defense steps up, shuts down Beavers
After allowing over four yards per carry against UNLV, the Wisconsin defense came under fire. The media narrative suggested the Badgers played sluggishly, and they needed to come out strong against Oregon State.
Well, shutting out a Pac-12 team is one way of making a statement.
"A shutout certainly makes everyone excited, and I think we're most excited in the difference in effort," co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said. "There were less missed tackles that lead to big plays, [and] seeing the improvements in the things we knew we had to improve on is very encouraging."
While shutting out the Beavers looks nice on the scoreboard, the individual statistics show how much the Wisconsin defense improved. The Badgers combined for 10 pass break-ups, four other tackles for loss, three sacks, and three forced fumbles. Linebacker Chris Borland was involved in more plays from the middle spot as well- the sophomore broke up two passes and combined with Mike Taylor for a TFL.
News and Notes
-- Cornerback Devin Smith is out for this week's game against NIU, according to Chris Ash. Ash did not know for how long Smith will be sidelined, so for now Marcus Cromartie will start opposite Antonio Fenelus.
"We'll miss Devin, he was performing at a nice level, but that's the nature of the game," Partridge said. "We've gotta get the next guys in there to step up."
Ash noted that Cromartie benefitted from getting playing time against both UNLV and Oregon State.
"I think he handled himself well, he was ready for the opportunity," Ash said. "He wasn't perfect by any means, but it was great to get him out there."
-- Both defensive coordinators had high praise for defensive end David Gilbert. The junior recorded a sack, a tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits on Saturday, and Ash said Gilbert has made big strides this year.
"Saturday was probably the best day of football he's had since he's been on campus," Ash said. "He played at a high level, pressured the quarterback a lot, and did some really good fundamental things in terms of his pass rush."
"What we saw on Saturday was what we were hoping to see out of David, and hopefully it continues."