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The Wisconsin Badgers have gotten off to a 4-1(2-0) start this season, most recently defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 24-13 in their first game back from the bye week.
This outing was a defensive masterclass, as the Badgers neutralized Rutgers’s rushing attack, shutting them out in the first half, while cornerback Ricardo Hallman made the play of the game with a 95-yard pick-six to provide Wisconsin a 17-0 lead at halftime.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the Badgers have been winning games, but at the expense of scrutiny towards their defense for the inconsistent play that’s occurred thus far.
As a result, fans have held mixed emotions about new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel and his scheme during the adjustment between coaching staffs.
That leads us to the question: has Mike Tressel done a good job as the team’s defensive coordinator?
Looking back to the first few weeks of the season, my main concern with the Badgers defense wasn't necessarily in regards to playcalling; instead, it was the disconnect between Tressel’s scheme and the team’s personnel.
Tressel came into Madison coaching with similar ideologies to former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, but his defensive scheme came with a twist, as the Badgers began to incorporate more three-safety looks with a “Dollar” package, leaving lighter fronts and a bigger emphasis on nickel packages.
However, with Wisconsin’s early struggles to generate a pass rush and win at the line of scrimmage at times in the run game, Tressel flipped his defensive outlook, instead running with four down lineman, involving the two outside linebackers, and more two-safety sets against Rutgers.
While this alignment could've been more of a matchup-dependent switch, given Rutgers’s desire to run the football, it was a welcomed change that ultimately saw great success and consistent execution from the Badgers defensively.
Wisconsin’s next opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes, comes into Madison with a similar run-heavy approach, which could prompt a similar response defensively from Tressel in incorporating heavier boxes, while trusting his defensive backs more in man-coverage.
It’s a tough adjustment for the coordinator, as Wisconsin’s defensive personnel isn't the best for what he envisions; the Badgers don’t have as strong down linemen to consistently win at the line of scrimmage, nor do they have the tall, lengthy cornerbacks that Tressel has been exposed to at Cincinnati for press-man coverage.
But, after a few weeks of up-and-down play defensively, Tressel and the Badgers defense made it work in Week 5 with a nice change to better fit Wisconsin’s defensive unit.
Now, can they continue carrying the momentum into Week 7? That’s a question we’ll learn the answer to on Saturday.