2018 was best described as an up and down year for the Wisconsin Badgers defense. After a 2017 season where the Badgers ranked third in total defense behind the juggernauts of Clemson and Alabama, the stock for Wisconsin defense was as high as it had ever been. A regression was somewhat expected in 2018 with a young and inexperienced secondary, but from that struggle comes a new opportunity for the Badgers defense in 2019.
Last season the Badgers had some shortcomings on the defensive side of the football. A team notorious for pressuring the quarterback saw its worst sack output in recent memory, ranking 114th in sacks, just one spot ahead of 1-11 Rutgers. The inability to get to opposing quarterbacks put a young and inexperienced secondary on islands for far too long. Injuries didn’t help, but regardless, the Badgers expect a much different output in 2019.
Linebacker Chris Orr has been a part of both the successful Wisconsin defenses and the struggling one last season. In his final year with UW, Orr believes a mixed bag of things should help return the Badgers to traditional form.
“We need to bring that attitude of Wisconsin defense back. Wisconsin defense is a stingy, physical defense. Like I said before, you’re going to remember when you played us, you’re going to feel it... it’s bringing that attitude back,” said Orr when asked how the Badgers can return to the defensive glory of 2016 and 2017 seasons.
While attitude and physicality are certainly building blocks for any great defense, it’s hard to deny that injuries weren’t a huge factor for the struggles in 2018. A healthy defensive line should help bring the Badgers back to where they were seasons ago. Key players like Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand should provide a spark to the unit. When Orr was asked about the difference those two would make, he raved about their abilities in the trenches.
“We love to have them in front of you...Talking about somebody like Isaiahh he’s a physical beast. There’s so much he can do to make problems up front. He creates issues for other offenses...it will definitely help out in establishing that you’re not going to run the ball, and also the pass rush game.” said Orr.
An improved defensive line and pass rush will greatly dictate the success of the Badgers in 2019, but another spot that the Badgers now see as a strength is a secondary that returns a lot of experience from 2018. The group of corners and safeties from a year ago showed improvement down the stretch and will look to make that year one to year two jump this fall. When Orr was asked about the group behind him on the field, he talked about the secondary’s ability to help the entire unit.
“It helps a lot in the pass game. People said we had a issue rushing the passer, having a better back-end will help with that...there’s a confidence that they bring to the whole unit when those guys are out there having fun and making plays. It leaks out to everyone else. Confidence is the biggest thing, them having experience will help us out as a whole.”
Coach Chryst alluded to that unit’s improvement as well. He talked about the secondary’s overall depth and ability to get better as we head into fall and stressed the need to focus on getting better each day.
Chryst touched on the secondary which has a lot of depth returning. Some players may be upset by playing time.— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) July 18, 2019
Chryst said, "That could happen, each one of them brings something. Individually, they have to focus on getting better. The playing time will happen." #B1GMediaDay
While there certainly needs to be improvement for the Wisconsin defense to return to its former glory, it appears that the fixes aren’t too difficult to make. A more physical style and attitude will ignite the unit and it appears leaders like Orr and Zack Baun have embraced the role of bringing that energy back each day. Couple that with the return of two physical defense lineman, and a young but experienced secondary, and you should see a defense that is hungry to prove themselves and get back to the traditional brand of Wisconsin football.