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Attitude drives dominant defensive effort for Wisconsin

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A strong defensive showing was the highlight of the Badgers’ win.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Multiple players mentioned it during the post-game media availability.

“Attitude, we just tell ourselves that they’re not going to get in the end zone, no matter what,” said Chris Orr, who nearly had an interception in the first quarter of the Wisconsin Badgers’ win over the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday. “If we have to scratch, claw—whatever we have to do to keep them out of the end zone.”

Wisconsin’s defense allowed a paltry nine points to the Boilermakers, who entered the weekend averaging 29.6 points per game. Purdue forced three Wisconsin turnovers and also blocked a Wisconsin punt, but the Badgers only surrendered three field goals.

Purdue was one of the top red-zone offenses in college football, but Wisconsin’s stop unit held the Boilermakers to 0-of-4 in the red zone. The Badgers have now allowed five touchdowns in 19 red-zone visits for opposing teams. Wisconsin led the nation in that statistic heading into Saturday’s game, and still does in having only allowed touchdowns on 26.32 percent of red-zone attempts.

“Attitude. It’s attitude. It’s the guys you’re playing with, and that’s the expectation,” D’Cota Dixon said. “Win your 1/11th, and you play with attitude. I’m not just playing to make an interception or a fumble, I’m playing for this dude next to me who trusts me.”

Leon Jacobs had what ended up being the game-winning interception, and he provided his thoughts on the defense’s red-zone performance.

“I thought at the beginning of the season we were bad at that, we were giving up touchdowns. But today we bounced back and were pretty good.”

Alex Hornibrook threw two interceptions on the day, Jonathan Taylor had a fumble on the doorstep of a touchdown that would have all but ended the Purdue’s chances given the stingy nature of Wisconsin’s defense, and the Badgers also had a punt blocked. All of those mistakes, and no touchdowns for Purdue.

Nick Nelson was a big part of Wisconsin’s defense as well, breaking up three passes. That makes seven over the past three games and nine overall for the season, which leads the Badgers.

Purdue’s last drive ended up arguably its most potent of the game. Six plays and 54 yards ended on the Wisconsin seven-yard line with Jacobs’ interception.

“They disguised a bunch formation,” Jacobs said when recounting his critical pick. “They had the running back swing out, and I had him in man. D’Cota’s guy came under me, so D’Cota went over the top. His guy did a nice job of sitting down, so D’Cota was getting picked. I broke off my man and picked off D’Cota’s guy.”

Jacobs, who Dixon claims to have pretty consistent hands, mentioned that “he and I both tipped the ball, but I just caught it.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the game-changing play.

“We were in a situation where we could make calls, and I think we got ourselves in the right call,” he said. “That was all really just from communicating. That was great communication. Leon was doing his job, being in the right place at the right time. He made a play for us, and that was huge.”

Dixon mentioned that the Badgers ended up in a switching-man coverage, and that Jacobs ended up taking his guy after Dixon almost passed one of the other receivers off to Natrell Jamerson. Dixon also mentioned that he felt Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar made that decision due to the pressure of the defensive line getting to him and making him scramble.

Wisconsin’s defense continues to show that it’s among the top units in the country.

“I mean, I think we are [the best defense in the country],” Orr said. “I don’t know what other people will say, but I’ll take our guys 24/7, any day of the week.”

The Badgers are now surrendering only 13.33 points per game and have allowed just 17 points during second halves this season. Looking forward, Wisconsin welcomes a Maryland team that has lost multiple quarterbacks this season. While the Terrapins possess an electrifying runner in Ty Johnson and a future NFL receiver in D.J. Moore, expect another stifling performance from this Badger defense, which has remained relatively healthy. Jack Cichy has been lost since camp, but Chikwe Obasih is expected back before the end of the season.

In an unfortunate sequence in Saturday’s game, inside linebacker T.J. Edwards was ejected from the game due to a targeting penalty that, in my opinion, was questionable at best. Because Edwards’s penalty occurred in the second quarter, he should be able to return for the entirety of the Maryland game, having sat out the entire second half against the Boilermakers.