The Wisconsin Badgers heavily struggled on Saturday, as penalties, turnovers, and a failure to execute were the reason for their first loss of the 2022 season, which came at the hands of the unranked Washington State Cougars.
Here are the defensive grades for the Badgers:
Defensive Line/Edge: B+
The defensive line was one of the better elements of the team on Saturday, as star edge rusher Nick Herbig recorded his third sack of the season, while the Badgers allowed just 2.4 yards per carry, which elevated to just 3.5 yards per carry without Cam Ward’s five recorded rushes(two were sacks).
This sack from Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig is pretty disgusting. Chop the outside hand of the right tackle and dip on by before closing on the QB. Violent hands + flexible athlete = terrifying pass rusher. pic.twitter.com/I88wNqFF2i— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) September 10, 2022
The Badgers did fail to generate significant pressure on the athletic Ward, who either looked to get the ball out quick or extend plays.
While the Idaho Vandals generated three sacks against this very Cougars offense in Week 1, the Badgers mustered only two sacks, which is still a good number.
The defensive line committed the only defensive penalty for the Badgers all game, which was a Nick Herbig offsides call that gave the Cougars a first down on 3rd & 4. Overall, the penalty didn’t hurt the Badgers significantly, as cornerback Max Lofy intercepted a pass near the goal line.
Inside Linebacker: B+
Starter Maema Njongmeta led the Badgers in tackles for the second-straight game, recording eight tackles, including a tackle for loss.
Jordan Turner, the other inside linebacker, recorded four tackles, now ranking third on the team with 11 total tackles.
Additionally, Turner recorded two quarterback hits, which were both good calls from defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
The linebackers were used more sparingly compared to Week 1, with the Badgers electing for another defensive back in the dime and nickel packages that were utilized against Washington State’s offense.
Still, they performed to expectations and the new duo in the middle of the defense could prove to be one of the most important forces on the team this season.
The cornerback room was without two key contributors for the second straight game, as Alexander Smith and Justin Clark both missed Saturday’s against the Cougars due to injury.
Clark could potentially return in Week 3, while Smith appears to have a slimmer chance, given that he was placed on the “OUT” list on the injury report this week.
The Badgers recorded two interceptions with their cornerbacks. So, why is this grade not an A?
On the first interception, backup Max Lofy, who had a strong game, picked off a pass from quarterback Cam Ward in the red zone, saving the Badgers from giving up a certain amount of points.
On the second interception, top cornerback Jay Shaw made a nice play, however; he fumbled on the return, giving Washington State the ball, where they eventually took the lead with a touchdown drive.
While tackling needs to improve all across the board, it was a solid performance by the cornerbacks, especially because there weren’t any bigger plays allowed over the top, despite the Cougars rostering two 6’3 receivers as their top options.
After a strong first week, versatile safety John Torchio didn’t have as good of a second week, missing multiple tackles, including one that went for a big run, while also allowing a catch over the middle in coverage.
Torchio’s performance wasn’t without good plays though, as he bounced back from one of his missed tackles with a nice run fit and finish on the next play.
Kamo’i Latu’s performance was similar, as he had a big whiff on Nakia Watson’s 31-yard receiving touchdown while missing another tackle on Renard Bell’s 73-yard kick return.
Latu did have a sack on the day, which was a good call by defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard on yet another 2nd down, but his deficiencies with tackling derail the safety grade to a C+.
Preston Zachman and Kamo’i Latu are expected to continue sharing the safety snaps opposite of Torchio with Hunter Wohler out due to injury.
Special Teams: F
Despite the offensive penalties and lack of tackling defensively, the Badgers still could’ve won this game, had it not been for porous special teams play.
Kicker Vito Calvaruso missed both of his field goal attempts, with one coming from 51 yards and the other from 43 yards.
Additionally, punt returner Dean Engram made another questionable decision, running after a punt that he initially elected to let go. It was unclear whether the ball touched Engram or not on the punt.
On the other side, the Badgers gave up a 73-yard return, giving the Cougars a short field to work out of. Wisconsin needs to stop beating itself on all three facets of the field.