Like most teammates, outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel push each other to excel on the field. In the 58-0 blowout against Miami (Ohio) last Saturday, both recorded a sack a piece, with Biegel besting Schobert in tackles for loss (2.5 to one) but the former walk-on owning the tackles column against the now mullet-less partner in crime, six to four.
The good friends admit they challenge each other game by game to be their best, and the personal numbers they've accumulated facing opposing offenses in the past season-plus show their commitment to improving each week.
It appears, however, that their friendly competitions extend beyond the lights of Camp Randall Stadium and other college football stadiums.
"Well through and through, me and Joe are both competitors, okay," Biegel said with a laugh Wednesday.
"So whether that's playing ping pong downstairs in the player's lounge, or whether that's hanging around the house playing video games or on the field, me and Joe usually every game have a 'whoever has the most tackles, whoever has the most sacks,' and TFLs [tackles for loss], too, so we always keep those three in the back of our mind."
The close friendship between the two has developed in their years at Wisconsin and is continuing to solidify in their second season as starters in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense. Schobert and Biegel -- the "odd couple" as dubbed by their position coach Tim Tibesar -- form one of the best outside linebacker duos in the nation and are critical to the Badgers' success on defense.
Last season was their first as full-fledged starters after earning extensive playing time in defensive subpackages in 2013. They combined for 30 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as part of the "Chevy Bad Boyz" linebacking corp and a Wisconsin defense ranked third-best in total defense last season. More importantly, their contributions helped Wisconsin to an 11-win season.
Biegel, often seen as the energetic catalyst on Aranda's defense whose exhilarating performance on the field could only be matched by a flowing mullet that would make 1990s Billy Ray Cyrus proud, led the Badgers in tackles for loss with 16.5 and was second in sacks with 7.5. Schobert, though often overlooked and under-spoken compared to his friend and counterpart on the opposing side of the defense, ranked fourth in tackles with 69 but was second on the team in tackles for loss (13.5).
The Waukesha, Wis., native ended the 2014 season on a high note. In a 34-31 Outback Bowl victory in overtime over Auburn on Jan. 1, Schobert played a key role in that overtime period when the Tigers held the ball -- recording tackles on all three plays, two for loss on first and third down that forced kicker Daniel Carlson to attempt a 45-yard field goal that hit the right upright to secure the Wisconsin win.
This season, the duo has had a quick start through two games, starting out strong. Schobert leads the team in sacks (3) and tackles for loss (5), with Biegel -- a redshirt junior and Bednarik Award watch list nominee who now sports more of a mohawk with shaved sides -- close behind (one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss). Both have been credited with two quarterback hurries a piece. It's not a surprise the two play off each other well.
"They joke and jest with each other all the time," Tibesar said Wednedsay." They get along really well. They room with each other on the road, and they got a great relationship. They feed off each other in practice and in games, so they're always trying to one-up each other with their performance which I think drives both of them to get better."
Top pic: Schobert (58, left) and Biegel (47, right) pose for a picture during Wisconsin football's media day in 2014
Bottom pic: Schobert (58, left) and Biegel (47, right) pose for a picture during Wisconsin football's media day in August. Credit: Jake Kocorowski
The comfortability in the scheme for both Biegel and Schobert has gotten to the point where both players know where the other is on the field and when either one can be expected to make an impact.
"I know what he's going to do. He knows what I'm going to do. So I know if he gets this call, and the offense is in a certain formation, he should be making a play or there's a chance to make a play here," the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Schobert said Saturday after the victory over Miami (Ohio).
"I think when he makes a play, that makes me want to make a play, so we can stay at the same level competitively -- trying to one up each other -- which is good for the defense and it's good for our individual battle, I'd say."
While they room together on the road, Schobert and Biegel don't stray too far from each other outside of football either. According to Biegel, they live across the street from each other and also often go to dinner with their girlfriends and one another.
Tibesar, in his first year with Wisconsin, noted the duo were good players a year ago before he inherited them. The coaches are working to take their respective games to the next level this season -- mostly working on improvements to the techniques of both Schobert and the 6-foot-4, 246-pound Biegel to win more one-on-one match-ups.
With Schobert currently leading the team in tackles (19), sacks and tackles for loss, expect their friendly but competitive game of one-upmanship to continue through the season. That can only mean good things for this defense, as the two veterans continue to strive to improve their performances game-to-game, especially looking ahead to Troy this Saturday.
"I think that's really special between me and him because it really pushes us. You have another type of guy that pushes yourself," Biegel said.
"Me and Joe are the leaders -- not just physical leaders but we're the emotional leaders on this team -- so we really look into ourselves to continue to push ourselves and again, that's another reason why I'm thankful to have Joe next to me."