Seniors Marcus Trotter and Warren Herring returned to the Wisconsin defense in a big fashion on Saturday, helping hold the Maryland Terrapins to only 175 total yards and seven points. Along with junior fullback Derek Watt, the trio of previously injured starters helped bring the Badgers back to near full-strength in a 52-7 victory.
For Watt, it was his first game action since the Aug. 30 loss to LSU when he injured his right foot and required surgery. Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen noted during Monday's press conference that Watt played about 16 snaps Saturday but hopes to increase those reps this week at Rutgers.
The 6'2, 236-pound junior played only fullback against the Terrapins in the blowout win. Watt said it took a few snaps to get going, but felt pretty comfortable as the game went on, working to keep loose on the sidelines.
His fellow backfield mate in junior running back Melvin Gordon was happy to have him on the field again.
"Oh yeah, it's always good when you got your main man back there," Gordon said after the game. "He's still got some things he said he feels he needs to get better on, but it was a good feeling he's back there because I know he's going to protect me."
Like Watt, Herring returned and provided depth to a once thin defensive line unit after being out since the LSU game. Andersen said Monday that Herring played an inside defensive line position when the Badgers went to a three-down linemen look rather than at defensive end.
Herring said practices leading up to his return were high-intensity and uptempo, as the defense was making sure its players were in the right spot and had "juice" for the game. The 6'3, 293-pound linemen credited the athletic conditioning staff for getting him back on the field.
When game time came, he kept telling himself he was there before, but as in every game he plays, he wanted to make a statement for the defense he's been longing to play again with for weeks.
"I missed those fellas," Herring said Saturday, "and it was a great feeling."
Trotter came back from a groin injury suffered against Northwestern. He, along with fellow linebackers Derek Landisch, Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert, combined for 6.5 of the 7.0 Badgers tackles for loss on the afternoon. On the afternoon, the linebacking corps also had the Badgers' only two sacks on the afternoon and forced a fumble (Schobert), while Biegel also recovered the team's only turnover.
Wisconsin's defense forced Maryland's offense into three 3-and-outs and held a potent spread attack to under 130 yards passing. It was a dominant performance that overwhelmed Maryland after the first offensive series of the game.
"I envision this defense to just be that type of defense -- just have swag all the time, just make offenses quit in the first quarter -- that's how I envision this defense in," Trotter said post-game.
"We're getting there, and if we keep on working hard and not get complacent, we're going to be there"
The former walk-on from Milwaukee Marquette, aside from his leadership and experience, also provided an intangible spark to this team that's noticed by his teammates.
"Me and Marcus like to consider ourselves the emotional leaders, kind of the outspoken guys," Biegel said Saturday. "I'm really excited to have those guys back and really excited to see what they can do for us the rest of the season."
Sam Arneson's World Series connection
The Kansas City Royals are down 3-2 in the World Series to the San Francisco Giants but return home to Missouri for Game 6 on Tuesday. For senior tight end Sam Arneson, he's rooting for the American League champions, not because a handful of former Milwaukee Brewers litter the roster and coaching staff, but because his uncle, third base coach Mike Jirschele, is within two games of being a World Series champion.
Arneson's been a Royals fan since his youth, as Jirschele's been inside the Kansas City organization since 1992. The 6'4, 244-pound tight end used to go out to Omaha on family vacations for a week at a time, as Jirschele coached the Royals' Triple-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers, for 11 seasons before being promoted to third base coach in the big leagues in October 2013.
Baseball roots are firmly held on Arneson's mom side. Jirschele's two sons, Justin and Jeremy, played collegiate baseball in two Division III schools in Wisconsin. Justin was still playing minor league baseball as of the 2014 season.
However, football is seen on both sides of the family tree. Along with Sam's father, Dave, who played football at Wisconsin, his grandfather also played at the collegiate level. Don Jirschele played for the University of Kentucky under head coach Bear Bryant, and had a field renamed after him in his hometown of Clintonville, Wis. Fellow Badgers Joel Stave and Jake Keefer came up with Arneson to celebrate the renaming ceremony at W.A. Olen Park a couple of summers ago.
"My dad played football here," Arneson said, "but my mom always jokes that my athleticism comes from her side."