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Wisconsin Football defensive grades: A new starter rejuvenates the defense in Week 8 victory

After battling injuries, a certain defensive back started on Saturday and led the charge for the Badgers.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 35-24 in their biggest statement win of the year, improving to 4-4 on the year as they head into the bye week.

Several defensive players stepped up as the Badgers were down multiple starters, and Wisconsin bounced back after a disappointing 34-28 double overtime loss to the Michigan State Spartans in Week 7.

Here are the defensive grades against Purdue:

Defensive Line: C+

The Badgers were severely depleted along the defensive line, as Nick Herbig and Isaiah Mullens both did not play against the Spartans, although the former suited up, but only for emergency.

As a result, Wisconsin experimented with a series of different defensive rotations, relying on several contributors off the bench, such as Darryl Peterson, Kaden Johnson, Ben Barten, and Gio Paez.

As a result, Purdue was able to run at a fairly effective 4.4 yards per carry clip on 30 attempts, with many missed tackles occurring near the line of scrimmage.

Purdue had their way on the ground to both the outside and inside, but didn’t consistently rely on that facet early, and dropped to a quick 21-0 deficit, erasing the effectiveness of the ground game.

Wisconsin didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback, but Rodas Johnson sacked Aiden O’Connell once after C.J. Goetz had good penetration on the play.

Goetz, normally known for his run-defending skills, struggled in that aspect on Saturday at times, but looked fairly solid as the top pass-rusher off the edge.

In a game where the Badgers’ defensive line was depleted, Wisconsin needed the other facets of the team to show up, and they did for the most part.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Purdue at Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Linebackers: B-

Jordan Turner made several highlight plays, which included two stops at the goalline during a near-goalline stand, as well as an interception.

But, Turner also took poor angles in the run game, while still struggling to get a true feel for zone coverage.

On an Aidan O’Connell 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Payne Durham, Turner locked onto the quarterback, overplaying his zone, which caught him out of place as Durham ran past him for an easy touchdown on a crosser.

Njongmeta also faced his fair share of errors, missing a tackle in the run game, while taking a bad angle early that resulted in a 30-yard run from Devin Mockabee.

Backup linebacker Jake Chaney flashed in small sample size, earning a run stop on 2nd & short, while executing a well-timed linebacker blitz for a sack.

With the linebacker room re-gaining health, Chaney’s recent string of performances could place him in competition with Turner for the starting middle linebacker spot.

Cornerbacks: A-

Alexander Smith returned as a starter after playing in a limited role against Michigan State and arguably was Wisconsin’s second-best defender on the field, behind a player not mentioned yet.

The cornerbacks have been struggling all season, especially on explosive plays where they’ve been beaten over the top or at the catch point.

Facing off against top receiver Charlie Jones, Smith did his job, forcing a pass-breakup, while pushing the Purdue wideout out of bounds on another near-catch.

Smith’s longest completion allowed was just 11 yards, as the cornerback mitigated the regular damage on the backend, which stumped quarterback Aidan O’Connell.

His counterpart, Justin Clark, was nearly as impressive, playing a clean game at cornerback, apart from one deep 29-yard reception allowed to Mershawn Rice on a nice throw from O’Connell.

With Smith and Clark, the Badgers finally have a productive cornerback duo, as those two players are arguably Wisconsin’s two best at the position.

Jay Shaw and Clark rotated, and the former had a solid game as well, but Clark’s additional height and good coverage ability for his frame give him the edge thus far this season.

Clark also had a vital third down run stop, filling in well off the edge.

Ricardo Hallman, a starter for the entirety of the season thus far, could not bounce back from his poor performance against Michigan State, as he committed a pass-interference penalty on his lone coverage snap from scrimmage.

Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Safety: B+

John Torchio was the player of the game, as the safety intercepted two poor passes from Aidan O’Connell, with one going for a touchdown.

Torchio’s spot and vision of the quarterback on each play made the interceptions easy, and he consistently was in the right spot in coverage, which earned him Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week.

Torchio did miss a tackle on an early screen pass, but made up for his mistake instantly with a run stop on the ensuing play.

His counterpart, Kamo’i Latu, however, did not play as clean of a game, as the backup safety missed a few tackles in space, while allowing several catches over the middle and up the seam.

Latu and fellow backup Titus Toler gave O’Connell space in the middle of the field to operate, collapsing too late to the incoming receiver and giving up several chunk plays as a result.

But, Torchio’s strong performance gives the safety unit a good grade in Wisconsin’s final game before the bye week.