The Wisconsin defensive preview

Come inside as BadgerNation.com helps BRR breakdown the defensive side of the football for Wisconsin

Defensive Line

Wisconsin ranks second in the conference in total defense, allowing 307.9 yards per game, in part because of the Badgers run defense. Wisconsin ranks 12th in the country, allowing just 111.3 yards per game.

It's a line that a lot of upperclassmen experience, as defensive ends David Gilbert (junior) and Brendan Kelly (senior) and junior defensive tackles Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer have played well.

Although the numbers don't jump out (the line has combined for 30.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks this season), Wisconsin's defensive line held Ohio State to a season-low 139 rushing yards and Le'Veon Bell, who leads the Big Ten in carries (350) and yards (1,648) to only 77 rushing yards.

Linebackers

Wisconsin's starting three linebackers are probably one of the best units in the nation. Senior Mike Taylor finished the regular season with 115 tackles (his second straight 100 tackle season) and has averaged 10.2 tackles per game over the past two seasons.

In his last seven games, junior middle linebacker Chris Borland has averaged 8.6 tackles and recorded eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, broken up four passes, forced a fumble and recovered three fumbles. Borland has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, as UW didn't want to put him out there at less than 100 percent in two meaningless games.

The forgotten linebacker of the group is junior Ethan Armstrong, a former walk-on who was put on scholarship this past summer. After missing all of the postseason last year and all of spring ball following hip surgery, Armstrong has been solid, finishing second on the team with 83 tackles.

Ohio State entered its game against Wisconsin two weeks ago averaging 41.3 points per game, but the linebackers were a big part in hoping the Buckeyes to only seven offensive points in regulation.

Secondary

Wisconsin has held seven of the Badgers' 12 opponents this season to 20 points or fewer and allowed just 18.3 points in conference play, the second-best mark in the conference. Since playing Nebraska, Wisconsin is giving up 16.6 points per game, the best mark in the conference.

A big reason for that success is the secondary play that includes two senior cornerbacks (Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith) who earned All-Big Ten honors and a safety (Shelton Johnson) who broke his arm in week two and missed three games, including the Nebraska game. Junior Dezmen Southward fills out the group

Smith has been UW's best defender. He ranks fourth in the conference with 15 passes defended and is tied for fifth in the league with three interceptions. There have been some games where the opponents throw very little action his way; a credit to how good he has been.

Wisconsin's opponents have attempted an average of 34.2 passes per game in 2012, the fifth-most passes a Big Ten team has faced this year. Still, the Badgers rank third in the conference in opponents' completion percentage at 54.6 and 5.8 yards per attempt (Nebraska's defense leads in both of those categories).

Special Teams

Sophomore kicker Kyle French is 10-for-15 on the season, but has struggled as of late. He missed a critical 40-yard kick in regulation against Ohio State and missed a 44-yard try that would have extended overtime against Penn State. He had made his five previous tries before that with a long of 43. Redshirt freshman punter Drew Meyer has been a nice surprise. Making 70 punts this season, Meyer has averaged 41 yards per kick with 11 going over 50 yards, 31 inside the 20 and five going into the end zone. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in both kickoff returns (23.0 per return) and kickoff coverage (41 net yards per kickoff). The punt coverage unit has been generally good, although UW did give up a huge bust and a 67-yard touchdown to Ohio State's Corey Brown that was the difference in the game.


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