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Wisconsin Football defensive grades: Has the defense taken a step back?

The Badgers defense couldn’t withstand a late surge by the Spartans, losing 34-28 in double overtime in Week 7.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers suffered another loss, this time in competitive fashion as they were outplayed by the Michigan State Spartans in a 34-28 double-overtime defeat.

After a hot start, the Badgers’ offense fizzled, allowing the Spartans to overcome an early deficit and control momentum for the majority of the second half before they pulled away in overtime following a Braelon Allen fumble.

Here are the defensive grades against Michigan State:

Defensive Line: B+

Playing without Isaiah Mullens for the second consecutive week, the Badgers' defensive line stepped up, making life difficult for Michigan State on the ground, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry on 36 attempts.

Taking away sacks, the Spartans were still inefficient on the ground, rushing for just 3.4 yards per carry.

After a quiet couple of weeks, edge rusher Nick Herbig stepped up, recording a crucial sack in addition to 2.5 tackles for loss, with one forcing a Spartans punt late in the fourth quarter.

C.J. Goetz recorded a sack of his own, while James Thompson Jr. and Rodas Johnson had three quarterback hits combined.

Wisconsin gave up 34 points in this game, but 13 came in overtime, while one of the three Michigan State touchdowns in regulation was following an untimely Graham Mertz interception near his own endzone.

While the defense didn’t have a spectacular performance, the defensive line stepped up after a couple of disappointing games.

Linebackers: B-

In run defense, the linebackers were fairly effective, as Maema Njongmeta, Tatum Grass, and Jordan Turner had 11, nine, and six tackles, respectively.

However, the Badgers continue to struggle in coverage over the middle, as Michigan State completed five passes in the intermediate range of the field, beating Wisconsin’s zone coverage and getting yards after the catch.

Tatum Grass appears to be inching up the depth chart as the Badgers are looking for a spark from their linebackers after he and Jake Chaney started against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Chaney should return against Purdue in Week 8 after missing Week 7’s matchup with a head injury.

Perhaps pressure needs to get there more consistently, but the Badgers’ linebackers have had an up-and-down season.

Secondary: D

Regardless of who was in the backend, the secondary was consistently torched by Michigan State’s aerial attack last Saturday.

Michigan State completed seven plays of 15+ yards through the air, which accounted for 230 of their 290 passing yards on the day.

Quarterback Payton Thorne consistently targeted 1-on-1 matchups on the boundary, finding receivers Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman, who had nine catches for 117 yards and five catches for 79 yards, respectively.

Each player’s contested-catch ability played a role over Wisconsin’s smaller cornerbacks, which have been an issue in multiple games this season.

Ricardo Hallman and Jay Shaw were beaten on different plays, while Justin Clark and the former defensive back each committed a pass interference penalty, providing new opportunities for the Spartans' offense.

With a weaker secondary, the Badgers must get continuous pressure on quarterbacks to relieve the responsibilities of their defensive backs if they want to limit the explosive plays.

Alexander Smith, who has been injured all season, returned to the fold against Michigan State, but played in a limited capacity. Perhaps, his return may ignite a spark in the secondary, although the experienced cornerback is just 5’11, 183-pounds himself.

The Badgers have a tough test at home against the Purdue Boilermakers in Week 8, where they’ll need a stellar defensive performance to remain in the game if their offense can’t produce consistently.