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Bowling Green vs. Wisconsin: Derek Landisch, Badgers defense withstand early Falcons attack

After so much talk about the Baylor-influenced Bowling Green offense, Wisconsin held the Falcons to 271 total yards and 17 points.

Wisconsin linebacker Michael Trotter.
Wisconsin linebacker Michael Trotter.
Grey Satterfield

If you hadn't heard, the Bowling Green offense came into Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday riding a large wave of momentum.

Against a porous Indiana Hoosiers defense two weekends ago, the Falcons ran 113 plays, gained 571 yards and ultimately won a 45-42 high-octane affair. Facing a younger defense that exhibited some signs of vulnerability in the secondary against LSU, many thought the Wisconsin Badgers would be challenged by an offense mirroring a Baylor-type of spread, pace-driven offense. Would there be an offensive shoot-out in Madison?

After all the talk and hype surrounding a dangerous opponent, the Badgers held their ground. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's scheme and his players suppressed the Falcons' offense to exactly 300 fewer yards -- 271 -- than it gained the week prior. Wisconsin dealt with some big plays early on but forced two consecutive turnovers in the second quarter that swung the momentum heavily in the Badgers' favor, as the defense solidified itself in a 68-17 victory.

"It's a team game," said senior inside linebacker Derek Landisch, who led the team in tackles (6), sacks (2) and tackles for loss (3.5).

"I think we played, for the most part, pretty good team defense, so that was good to see."

The Falcons started out the game going three-and-out on consecutive series -- the Badgers forced nine for the day -- but Melvin Gordon's first career lost fumble allowed Bowling Green excellent field position on Wisconsin's 35-yard line. The Falcons capitalized on one play, with running back Fred Coppet taking the handoff on a read-option look 35 yards to tie the game at 7-7.

The Badgers gave up a few big plays during the game, but mostly on the ground. Along with Coppet's game-tying run early, they gave up a 60-yard touchdown run to reserve running back Andre Givens early in the fourth quarter, which broke Wisconsin's streak of 51 unanswered points scored.

Through grounded for the majority of the game, Bowling Green did find some early success through the air. True freshman wide receiver Roger Lewis hauled in a 36-yard pass from sophomore quarterback James Knapke on the Falcons' second scoring drive. Ryan Burbrink's 33-yard catch in the second quarter also helped Bowling Green drive deep into Wisconsin territory in the second quarter. There were a couple of overthrown passes that sailed over receivers' heads -- wideouts who got behind UW defensive backs -- but Knapke couldn't connect.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, obviously. Wisconsin forced two key turnovers in the second quarter after building a 21-10 lead in the second quarter. Bowling Green drove down to the Wisconsin 8-yard line, but on 3rd-and-goal, Knapke's pass was deflected off of Landisch into the hands of true freshman safety Lubern Figarowho returned it 43 yards and helped lead to Wisconsin's fourth touchdown of the day and a 27-10 lead.

On the next Bowling Green offensive drive, sophomore Vince Biegel stripped Knapke -- who was 13-of-28 for 163 yards on the afternoon -- and true freshman defensive linemen Alec James recovered. Eleven plays later, Melvin Gordon scored his third touchdown of the day to put the game out of reach at 34-10.

"Everybody is working as a team. We looked good today." -Lubern Figaro

"We played great defense today," Figaro said in response to a question on forcing turnovers at opportune times. "Everybody is working as a team. We looked good today."

The Badgers faced 11 series from the Falcons in the first half, allowing only 166 total yards. After a week where Bowling Green had five drives of 10 plays, 75-plus yards and 33 points in the second half against Indiana, it only mustered six drives in the third and fourth quarters. Outside of the 60-yard run by Givens, the Badgers suffocated the Falcons' offense and gave up only 45 yards in those periods.

Third-down conversions were also difficult for the Falcons to convert Saturday, as they were 2-of-15 in those situations. The Badgers, utilizing mostly a nickel look out of the 10 and 11 personnel seen during the game, also added pressure, sacking Knapke four times and tallying 11 tackles for loss.

A mostly dominant performance, with a quicker defense substituting against and adjusting to a potent offense is a positive sign for Aranda's defense that's played well overall through three games.

"The ability for us to get into those sub-packages with the pass rushers, with the faster linebackers," head coach Gary Andersen said when referencing the benefits of a quicker defense. "Michael [Caputo] played some linebacker today. You saw Moose [Leo Musso] and you saw those kids coming off the edge. P.J. [Peniel Jean] played a lot today.

"And so we really wanted to get our speed out there and handle it. But the transition is continuing to grow. I was really happy with the way Dave [Aranda] mixed the calls and we were able to handle it."

Luke Mueller contributed reporting to this story.