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Badger Bits: The Curious Case of UW's Defensive Red Zone Woes

Wisconsin's red zone defense has been atrocious this season. How can defense that has been solid everywhere else this season allow opponents to score 90 percent of the time they get inside the 20-yard line?

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Tom Lynn

Let's take a moment to recognize the fact that Wisconsin's defense has been solid this season. Not outstanding, mind you, but good enough, certainly. Wisconsin ranks 18th in the FBS in rush defense, giving up just over 107 yards per game at 3.43 yards per carry. They rank 14th in the country (2nd in the Big Ten behind Illinois) in allowing opponents to convert just 30.66 percent of their third downs. Even the pass defense has been stout, statistically. Wisconsin is allowing just 5.9 yards per attempt (t-17th in the country) and an opponent passer rating of 118.55 (34th) on the year.

Yet they rank near the bottom of the FBS in one key area: Nine out of every ten times an opponent makes their way into the red zone, they come away with points. And not just field goals. Out of every trip, 65 percent result in a touchdown. That ranks 89th in the FBS, and belies Wisconsin's bend-don't-break axiom. The 2011 defense was only modestly better, allowing opponents to score 84.38 percent of the time with a 59.38 touchdown percentage. In 2010, the numbers jump back up to 88.24 and 61.76 percent.

What exactly is causing of Wisconsin's red zone woes is still a mystery. Wisconsin has done a respectable job punishing opposing quarterbacks with 20 sacks (2.22 per game) on the season. Turnovers may be the biggest culprit, with just nine forced (four INTs) to rank 106th in the nation. Then again, the 2011 and 2010 defenses that were much better at forcing turnovers (33rd and 49th in FBS, respectively) had the same problems.

Last week, we saw how hard it can be to hold fast when it really matters. A Michigan State offense that Wisconsin had bullied throughout the game found the end zone on its final two trips inside the 20, sealing the win for the Spartans. Unfortunately, the solution to what has become a perennial problem under Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash is yet unknown.

Thursday's Links

Josh Gasser shifts into an assistant coaching role.

Derek Lee is expected to be in the lineup when Wisconsin hockey opens its WCHA series with Colorado College on Friday.

Bret Bielema on XM Radio: Basically a reminder of how awesome Joel Stave was last Saturday, and how demented and cruel college football can be.

Bart Miller fluff on getting the band back together along the offensive line.

How the Badgers ran, passed: Week 9

Wisconsin is No. 5 in Kenpom's preseason rankings, yet somehow only No. 4 in the Big Ten (could be a fun year, you guys).

Michael Bennett is going away for a little while.

AIRBHG is finding new, unusual and even more cruel ways to torture Iowa running backs.

Spencer Hall on the word "class" and the sportswriters who use it to write easy columns and make sports less fun.

Necessary OTE things: Wisconsin checks in at No. 6 in this week's power poll, and drops back down to the Gator Bowl in bowl projections.