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Wisconsin defense review: Chris Borland, Mike Caputo contain BYU

A solid defensive performance led by the senior All-American candidate and the surging sophomore held BYU to well below its season averages Saturday.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After a good showing in Iowa a week earlier against a pro-style Hawkeyes offense minus senior linebacker Chris Borland, the Wisconsin defense got another taste of an up-tempo offense in the BYU Cougars that had credible threats not just through the air, but on the ground with a duo of top-25 rushers in quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams.

Fortunately, Borland made his return to the field, and along with safety Mike Caputo, set the tone early en route to holding a BYU offense normally averaging over 500 yards per game to 370 in a 27-17 victory Saturday.

Numbers to notice

7th: National ranking for Wisconsin in total defense, giving up 294.9 yards per game (second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State)

5th: National ranking for Wisconsin in scoring defense, giving up 15.2 points per game (second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State)

8th: National ranking for Wisconsin in rush defense, giving up 98.4 yards per game (third in the Big Ten)

14th: National ranking for Wisconsin in pass defense, allowing 196.4 yards per game (third in the Big Ten)

+2: Turnover margin for Wisconsin on the season (five fumble recoveries + eight interceptions - 11 turnovers)

7-of-19: BYU's third-down efficiency Saturday

207: Passing yards given up by Wisconsin's defense

95: Passing yards given up by Wisconsin's defense through three quarters

163: Rushing yards given up by Wisconsin's defense

4: Sacks by Wisconsin's defense

7: Tackles for loss by Wisconsin's defense

4: Quarterback hits by Wisconsin's defense

5: Three-and-outs by BYU's offense (eight vs. Iowa last week)

2: Red-zone opportunities for BYU

1: Red-zone touchdowns for BYU

Against another up-tempo spread offense, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda employed the following looks:

  • A base 3-4 personnel look with an odd front.
  • A 3-4 personnel with an even front.
  • Mostly a 2-4-5 look, with two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs, with Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert rushing off the edge opposite Brendan Kelly.

What went right

1. Borland. What can be said? After missing seven quarters due to a pulled hamstring, Borland comes back against a potent offense and registers 13 tackles, two sacks and 2 1/2 tackles for loss. His speed on the field Saturday was not an issue, and with another dominant performance garnering Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors, head coach Gary Andersen continues to be impressed by Borland's continued success on the field.

"Pretty much every day he surprises me, on and off the field. He really does. Consistent," Andersen said Monday.

"But it's consistent greatness out of him. That might be the thing that surprises me the most, is just his ability to sustain and maintain and just keep plowing through it and stay focused."

2. Caputo. We mentioned on last week's B5Q roundtable on our Kielbasa Kings Sports Extravaganza radio show that defensive back continues to come out and play aggressively each Saturday. This past weekend against the Cougars was no different. After 12 tackles, a half-tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit, Andersen admitted a couple of BYU players asked him after the game about the young safety.

"I had the opportunity to talk to a couple of BYU kids after the game, and one of the first things that one of their safeties said to me was, you know, ‘What year is Caputo?' I said, ‘Well, he's a sophomore.' He's like, ‘Man, coach, that guy's a really good player.' That's the ultimate compliment as a player. When you walk off the field and within two hours a kid is passing on that kind of information to a player, that's pretty special," Andersen said.

3. Disrupting the up-tempo offense. BYU came in averaging close to 90 plays per game. It ended with 81, but through three quarters, Wisconsin's defense held the Cougars to only 50 plays, resulting in a mere 196 yards. Couple that with five three-and-outs, and BYU lost its bite for most of the game.

4. Containing Hill and the offense. With over 2,000 yards passing and 800 yards rushing entering Saturday's game, the Badgers' defense never really let the former Stanford commit set a rhythm. Hill only gained 53 yards on the ground (3.1 per carry) and threw for 207 yards in the air (95 through three quarters and under 50 percent for the entire game). Further, Wisconsin pressured him, forcing four sacks and hitting Hill another four times. Also not going over 100 yards rushing was Williams, gaining only 76 yards.

What went wrong

1. A long third-down run. It was a delayed handoff by Hill to Williams, sort of a counter trap play that netted 23 yards and a first down on the first play of the second quarter. Wisconsin responded nicely, though, as that was the longest run given up the entire game, and Aranda made the necessary adjustments to not let the Cougars beat them at that same play again.

2. Matching up against BYU's receivers later in the game. Through three quarters, the Badgers held receiver Cody Hoffman to just two catches for 41 yards. He ended the day with seven receptions for 113 yards after an explosive fourth quarter. You saw Dezmen Southward line up on him at times, something the coaches said they would do at the beginning of the year against certain receivers (most thought it would be in the slot). It wasn't the best game of covering receivers for Southward, but it was something he has not been asked to do in one-on-one situations. He was beat on Hoffman's 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter and was also flagged for pass interference, as well. Overal,l though, Andersen said he was proud of Southward's effort in making the adjustments to play man-on-man.

3. Late fourth-quarter yardage. After James White's third touchdown put Wisconsin up by three scores, BYU's offense, which was stagnant at best in 3/4 of the game, came alive. Call them garbage-time yards or whatnot, but the Cougars did put together drives of 57 and 61 yards. They did score just seven points in the final frame, though, and did not impact the final outcome.

Final thoughts

Another impressive outing for the Badgers defense as they caged/tamed/declawed the Cougars -- whatever pun you want to use this week. Next up, another up-tempo offensive threat in the Indiana Hoosiers, who boast the nation's eighth-ranked offense, 12th in passing offense. The Hoosiers' dynamic offense will probably be without running back Tevin Coleman, who suffered an ankle injury late in the win against Illinois last weekend. Regardless of the loss, Andersen knows this'll be another game his defense will need to step up in.

"It's going to be a big challenge defensively for them," Andersen said.

"We've got to do what we do."