A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.
Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.
Every week, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.
This week, Maragos addresses the challenges of defending the spread offense, senior day and breaks down the various matchups.
Badger Nation: Winning an important game in such a dominating fashion, that has to be good for morale in the locker room, especially after they say on the loss for two weeks?
Maragos: Exactly. I think Wisconsin made a statement being able to run the ball. Games like this really boosted the confidence of the team, especially going into a Big Ten Championship game. It's not about how you start, it's about you finish, and the way they ran the ball has to make them feel good. They were executing really well, and I think that bodes for them right now.
Badger Nation: Focusing to Ohio State, Wisconsin is going against a good spread offense and quarterback this weekend. How tough is it for Wisconsin to prepare for a spread offense when the Badgers doesn't recruit to the spread offense and doesn't go against it on a weekly basis?
Maragos: It's difficult, largely in part because you are used to the game planning and preparing of going against their own pro-style offense. There are certain packages and styles of plays they run out of certain formations. When you have to introduce that spread offense and that dual-threat quarterback, it's difficult because it's uncharted territory. You're not as familiar or as comfortable because you really only have that week to prepare, get your rules for the defense down and try to create seems and holes to make plays. Guys have to know what they are doing because guys can get gassed pretty quick and things can explode really quick if they aren't in the right spot.
Badger Nation: The play of the back seven will be critical this week for Wisconsin because Ohio State killed the Badgers last season with the read-option. Coming from a safety's perspective because it's going to be a big game for the safeties, what keys do you have to watch when you are put in a situation where you have to make a choice between quarterback and running back?
Maragos: In the spread offense and option game, everybody should be on a man. The problem is if that one guy isn't in his right spot, it screws the whole team up and everyone behind him. If the defensive line isn't putting pressure on the ball carrier and crashing down, the linebacker, instead of being on the pitch man, he has to take the quarterback. The safety then will have to take the pitch man and if he is getting blocked, a big play is going to happen.
If one guy screws up, it changes everyone else's assignment on the run and that miscommunication factor is what creates alleys. That's where you really get exposed and allow those big runs. It opens up the passing game, too. Everybody has to be assignment detailed and not try to do too much. The moment you do that, it screws everybody else behind you with their responsibilities, as well.
Badger Nation: Ohio State and Oregon both like to spread teams out and stay on the attack. Those were the two games last year where Wisconsin was really gashed on defense. If you look back at those two games, what was the one area that Wisconsin failed to do in attacking the spread that got them into trouble?
Maragos: I would say that they weren't really good tacklers. That's the one area they need to definitely be better on playing spread teams. You can't miss people playing spread teams and get away with it. Against those spread offenses, they create all one-on-one situations. Most of the time against a pro-style offense, you're working on your run fits, pushing runners to the linebacker and linebackers are going to box them back or turn them back to the safety. Everybody has their responsibilities and play off each other.
In the spread, you are one-on-one in a lot of space. If one guy misses a tackle, that missed tackle goes for 10 more yards. You have to be a really good tackler. That's one area that they can definitely improve, along with really being clued in to everybody's responsibilities. A lot of times you read one play and leave your zone, only to see a cutback and a big play in the area you were supposed to be guarding. That creates a one-on-one situation against your safety with no helpers. You have to be on your keys and tackle well.
Badger Nation: That's a perfect transition into my next question. Is the run option or the play-action pass off the option more dangerous and susceptible?
Maragos: The pass is more susceptible, but the key to stopping the pass is negating the run. If you can knock out the run and discourage the running plays calls from the other team, it really limits them and makes them one dimensional. That will really help in your pass coverage. Guys are flying up as fast because they are trying to fit responsibilities. I think the most important thing to stop is the run. A lot of time in those spread offenses, they rely on their run game succeeding to create seems and mismatches in the passing game. They want guys flowing up fast and creating those good matchups.
Badger Nation: Traditionally, what type of defenses did you run against Ohio State and what would you expect Wisconsin to run Saturday?
Maragos: I think you are going to see a lot of Quarters coverage. A lot of times it keeps a safety back in coverage, but also allows him to be active to go into the box and have a run responsibility. One or both of the safeties will have a run responsibility. A large part would be the running back or the pitch man, as well as guard the vertical threats. The safeties really have to be clued in and play a really good game. You also have to make sure the linebackers are assignment sound and force the quarterback to hold the ball long enough to where he has to pitch the ball to a running back that is guarded by a safety. I would expect a lot of quarters coverage.
Badger Nation: Traditionally, does Ohio State have better players than Wisconsin? If so, do you take that personally?
Maragos: I don't think so. If you look at the offensive line, it's pretty even with maybe a small edge to the Badgers. Wisconsin always has better tight ends and tailbacks. Ohio State might have better depth at receiver, but you look at the depth at the position for Wisconsin the last few years and UW has been right there. The two quarterbacks we had before this season were pretty good, as well. I don't think they necessary have better players, which is why you've seen the two teams matchup so well. It comes down to those small variables, a play here and there and a field position battle that really make a difference in these kinds of games.
Badger Nation: How do you remember the two games against Ohio State – two frustrating games in 2008 and 2009 for different reasons?
Maragos: The thing about a team like an Ohio State that's like a Wisconsin against some teams, when you have that type of talent of guys playing out there, you really see the details come out. It's a reason why they win a lot of games because they are a good, talented team that focuses on the details and basically just bull rush you during a certain point in the game. Ohio State is very similar because they are coached well and play hard.
In 2009, we were dominating the ball game, but we didn't take care of every little detail, which you have to do to win against teams like that. It's the team that do the little things – take care of the football, good field position, positive plays – that are going to come out with wins.
Badger Nation: Do seniors play harder on senior day in your opinion?
Maragos: I think there is definitely a special emphasis. It's emotional for the seniors. I remember playing and you want to do every single little thing in your power to make sure you go out with a win in Camp Randall because it's such a positive experience for you. You want to remember your last game there and cap off your time there with a great game and go out with a win. For the other guys, they recognize how well the seniors have them all year, the sacrifices they've made and put the younger players under their wing. The younger guys always talk about wanting to win for the seniors. They're always playing hard, but there's a little something more in a game like that.
Badger Nation: What's more important in this game for Wisconsin – throwing the ball with consistency or forcing turnovers?
Maragos: Passing the ball. I think passing the ball will be the most important thing because that's going to open up everything. With a team like Ohio State matching you pound for pound, athlete for athlete, if they load the box up and you can't throw the ball, it's going to be a long day on offense. You need to score at least 17 points because you know there offense is going to score at least two touchdowns.
Badger Nation: If you break down this game by going special teams vs. special teams, Wisconsin's offense vs. Ohio State's defense and Ohio State's offense vs. Wisconsin's defense, who do you give the edge to in those areas?
Maragos: I think special teams will be close to a wash, just because Wisconsin has done a really good job this season with its coverage units. I know Wisconsin's offense against Ohio State's defense will really be matched up well. I think Wisconsin runs the ball better, but Ohio State defends the pass better. It's going to be a really unique chess match. If Wisconsin can throw the ball, they can have success. If they have a tough time throwing the ball, Ohio State will really be clued in to the Badgers' running game, making it a tough day for the Badgers.
I think Wisconsin's defense is the backbone of the team. They have been really consistent for them and Ohio State's offense has been very explosive. I would give a slight edge to Wisconsin's defense. Overall I would give a slight edge to Wisconsin, especially this game with it being at home and emotional one. UW needs to create some turnovers, make a tackle to knock Ohio State out of field goal range or something like that, because close games like this require those plays you can't count on.
I really see this game being close. The two teams are pretty much stalemates in all aspects of the game. Those plays that you can't count on and you expect your seniors to make, you have to have more than what the other team does. I think playing at Camp Randall, Wisconsin wins those little variables, and wins 17-14.