Badgers Boast Top Notch D

Wisconsin enters the Big Ten championship with one of the top-ranked defenses in the country, further complicating matters for an already shorthanded Ohio State offense.

The majority of the talk on No. 13 Wisconsin entering the Big Ten championship game has centered on Melvin Gordon. It should, as Gordon is the nation’s leading rusher with 2,260 yards and 26 scores on the ground. He’s the co-frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

The Gordon talk is more than valid, but the other side of the ball shouldn’t be ignored.

The Badgers (10-2) defense is near the top in every conceivable category. Wisconsin is second in the country in total defense and passing defense, eighth in rushing defense and fourth in scoring defense. Wisconsin is doing it as a team as no Badger enters the title game in the top 20 nationally in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, passes defended or forced fumbles.

“They’re gap sound and they’ve got a lot of good players,” Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman said. “That’s just kind of how those guys are. They’ve got a knack for the football. They’re not real big, heavy guys or anything, but they get to the football and make plays.”

Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman credited the Badgers success to the complexity they bring to that side of the ball.

“I think it’s the multiplicity, the fact that their guys don’t line up in the same spot two times in a row, or two times at all in a given game,” Herman said. “Just finding out where they’re at and finding out what they’re doing. Trying to get all the bells and whistles narrowed down for the quarterback and the offensive line and saying, ‘this is really who they are guys, this is what they do. Forget this that and the other. This is what they are and this is what we are going to do to be successful.'”

Herman is familiar with the Badgers scheme as Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda lived together while attending California Lutheran College.

“Any chance you get to go up against your buddy and match wits is a fun opportunity,” Herman said. "Now I get to do it two years in a row, this time it’s against him in the Big Ten championship.”

Aranda has gotten his defense to perform at an extremely high level this season and will look to make things difficult for first-time Ohio State starting quarterback Cardale Jones.

As Jones fills in for the injured J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes are likely to lean on a rushing game that features 1,000-yard rusher Ezekiel Elliott.

The Badgers have held opponents to just under 104 yards per game on the ground, impressive numbers considering the stable of elite running backs throughout the Big Ten. Wisconsin, however, has been lucky in that regard.

The Big Ten features five running backs in the top 25 in the country, but because Wisconsin didn’t face Indiana or Michigan State this season, they missed Tevin Coleman (second in the country) and Jeremy Langford (23rd), respectively. The Badgers did hold Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah to just 69 yards, but the No. 13 runner in the nation was just two weeks removed from an MCL sprain. David Cobb, the nation’s 10th leading rusher, amassed 118 yards despite a lingering hamstring issue when Minnesota and Wisconsin squared off last weekend. Obviously, they didn't have to face Gordon.

This week the Badgers will have to deal with Elliott. The second running back to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season, Elliott is 37th nationally in rushing yards and sixth in the Big Ten with 1,182.

The sophomore knows that a lot of the focus will be on the running back in Wisconsin’s backfield and he is ok with that.

“Melvin Gordon is definitely the best running back in college football, so he’s definitely going to get a lot of talk,” Elliott said,“but that’s a little bit of motivation to go out there and play well this week.”

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