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Wisconsin football 2019: Top ten defensive plays

What were the ten most impactful and spectacular defensive plays from the regular season?

Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With the regular season in the rearview, the Wisconsin Badgers (10-3 overall, 7-2 B1G) football team now have their sights set on the Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks (11-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) on the first of January.

While B5Q will no doubt preview and breakdown the upcoming matchup with the Ducks, this week let’s look back at the top plays in each of the three phases of the game. Yesterday we broke down the top five plays from the special teams.

Today, is the defense. Here are the top 10 plays on the season based on impact and impressiveness from one of the top defenses in the country.

Honorable mention: Caesar Williams interception

In the early part of the Minnesota game, Tanner Morgan was flushed out of the pocket by outside linebacker Tyler Johnson (Wisconsin). Morgan would try to throw a level two touch pass toward receiver Tyler Johnson (Minnesota), but the underneath linebacker, Jack Sanborn would get a hand on it. The ball would proceed to fall into the lap of cornerback Caesar Williams, for the interception. The pick would go on to slow the early momentum built by Minnesota, as Wisconsin would respond with a field-goal to cut the Minnesota lead to four points in the second quarter.

No. 10: The Reggie Pearson fourth down stop

In a game where the Wisconsin defense was not playing their best, Reggie Pearson lead the team with 10 tackles. The most important tackle of his day came on a fourth down attempt in the red zone. Nebraska had killed Wisconsin all day through the air and on the ground, but Pearson read a beautifully executive tunnel screen by the Cornhuskers and planted the receiver with a textbook tackle inches before the goal-line. While this play is not nearly as flashy as some of the plays to come, the tackle was very impressive. The tackle also kept Nebraska from scoring and having a chance to try an onside kick late in the game.

No. 9: Eric Burrell interception

To kickoff the second half, Purdue would start the opening drive from their own 25-yard line. only down by a touchdown. Like much of the first half, Purdue would continue to move the ball on the Badger defense, all the way up to the Wisconsin 32-yard line. On a second and seven play Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell wold dial up a deep pass intended for David Bell. Rushed to throw by both Jack Sanborn and Chris Orr, O’Connell would float the ball up on the run, and Eric Burrell swooped in for a nice over the shoulder interception in front of the receiver at the five yard line. Wisconsin would respond with a touchdown drive, and would never look back on their way to a 45-24 victory over the Boilermakers.

No. 8: Isaiahh Loudermilk forced fumble

After Wisconsin seized all momentum early in the Big Ten Championship on two touchdown drives, Ohio State finally started to get things going offensively. The Buckeyes put together a drive from their own 25 yard line to eventually find themselves with a third and goal from the seven yard line. Forced up into the pocket by Jack Sanborn, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields would try to tuck the ball and run for the end zone. Isaiahh Loudermilk and Leo Chenal were having none of that, as Loudermilk knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hands to force a massive red zone turnover. Defensive lineman Matt Henningsen would pounce on the ball to secure possession back for the Wisconsin offense. While the Badgers would later lose this game, that play spurred the team’s momentum forward in the first half, as Wisconsin would do just enough to head to the Rose Bowl.

No. 7: Jack Sanborn interception

After going down early, the Wisconsin defense found itself struggling to slow down the Nebraska offense. In the middle part of the second quarter, Nebraska was down three, and looking to take back the lead from the Badgers. Chris Orr was having none of that. On a first down passing play, Orr spied quarterback Adrian Martinez, and was able to get a hand in the passing lane to tip the ball into the air. Linebacker Jack Sanborn was the beneficiary, as he was able to snag the pass and get the ball back for the offense. The offense would later capitalize on the short field with a touchdown to extend the lead to 24-14, and eventually pull away from the Cornhuskers 37-21.

No. 6: Reggie Pearson forced fumble in the red zone

In one of the most highly anticipated games of the season, Wisconsin jumped out to an early seven point lead over Michigan. The Wolverines would respond with a long pass to get into scoring position quickly. On the seven yard line, backup running back Ben Mason would rush up the middle, only to be whacked by redshirt freshman safety Reggie Pearson hard in the hole. Mason would cough up the ball, which was recovered by safety Eric Burrell. This defensive stand would only build upon the early Wisconsin momentum, and propel the Badgers to a huge 35-14 win.

No. 5: Matt Henningsen fumble recovery (Northwestern)

In a tight game versus Northwestern, Eric Burrell returned to action in the third quarter after sitting out the first half due to a targeting violation against Michigan. Boy did he make his presence felt. In the latter stages of the quarter, he would come up from his safety position on a blitz to force to strip Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson deep in Wisconsin territory. The ball would eventually land in the end zone, where defensive lineman Matt Henningsen would fall on the it for a Wisconsin touchdown, the first defensive score of the day.

No. 4: Zack Baun interception return for a touchdown

Outside linebacker Zack Baun is more widely known for his pass rushing skills, but he busted out some nice hands against Michigan State in coverage. On a zone-blitz scheme, Baun would drop into coverage in the fourth quarter. Brian Lewerke never saw him and Baun was able to get a hand on the ball and reel it in. The senior leader would proceed to take it back 34-yards for the touchdown, as Wisconsin dominated the Spartans in Camp Randall 38-0.

No. 3: Matt Henningsen catches the fumble midair

In the season opener in Tampa, Wisconsin would blow the doors off the South Florida Bulls after a lightning delay. A big reason for the lopsided score — 49-0 — was the play of the defense. In the early part of the second quarter, Wisconsin was only up by seven. That all changed in a major way though, as Zack Baun blew by the left tackle to knock the ball out of Blake Barnett’s hands on the sack. The ball would magically land into the outstretched arms of defensive lineman Matt Henningsen, who would return it 16 yards for the score. The Badgers would then pour on the points from there out.

No. 2: Noah Burks 68-yard interception return

On a day when the Wisconsin offense couldn’t seem to get their footing, the defense would instead take the scoring into their own hands. On a third and 10 play in the fourth quarter, Zack Baun would race around the left tackle and force an arrant pass from Northwestern quarterback Aidan Smith. The result was a leaping interception from Noah Burks, that he would eventually tiptoe down the sideline for a return of 68-yards, and the second defensive touchdown on the day. This score would prove huge as the Badgers would hold on to narrowly beat the Wildcats 24-15 in a sloppy game for the offense.

No. 1: The Chris Orr stuff

Holding an eight point lead with three and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Wisconsin defense would give up a 75 yard touchdown pass from Nate Stanley to Tyrone Tracy. With the momentum fully swung, the Hawkeyes attempted to convert a two-point conversion to tie the game. The call was a quarterback draw with Stanley, and he was swallowed up in the hole by Chris Orr and Eric Burrell. The duo would ultimately keep the quarterback out the end zone and preserve the two-point victory over the rival Iowa Hawkeyes 24-22. This conversion stand would keep Wisconsin’s Big Ten West division championship aspirations alive and was one of the most pivotal plays on the season.


What was the top defensive play from the 2019 regular season?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Chris Orr: The two-point conversion stop against Iowa
    (127 votes)
  • 16%
    Noah Burks: 68-yard interception return against Northwestern
    (27 votes)
  • 3%
    Matt Henningsen: fumble catch TD against USF
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    Zack Baun: TD interception against Michigan State
    (7 votes)
167 votes total Vote Now

Up Next: Tomorrow we will be looking back at the top ten offensive plays from the year.