Monday Morning Maragos

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is collecting a NFL paycheck with the San Francisco 49ers. He also joins Badger Nation for a weekly insider look at Wisconsin football, talking this week about Minnesota and looking ahead to No.1 Ohio State.

Referring to the sluggishness in the second quarter and the passing problems in the fourth, at the midway point of the season, do you still have the impression that Wisconsin has yet to play a 60 minute game?

Maragos: I think that when you watch the guys, you can obviously see how much our offense plugs away, runs the ball and how precise they are. You watch that and you can see that they can still put up a lot of points. When those can get rolling, they really can put up a lot of numbers.

You look at all the dynamics of the team, offense, defense and special teams, they can play as good as anybody. I think when they play consistent and error free, you can see them do some good things. Against Minnesota, who in my opinion is inferior to UW, it's a rivalry game and you are going to get a team's best shot. That's what you saw in the first half with Minnesota playing them tough. Wisconsin stuck to what they are doing and came away with a victory.

What do you take away from the fourth quarter from a secondary standpoint – four plays over 20 yards and two touchdown passes?

Maragos: I think in that situation, it really depends on what the lead is. The way that the coordinators call the game will be a lot more conservative than if the game was tighter. I saw a lot more Cover 2, so you'll see more yards given up. Still the safety gives up inside leverage that leads to a big play and some other little things where guys didn't finish. The big key is to finish the game, finish it strong and to take care of the details on every play. That's the thing about football and when you play a potent offense with a good quarterback like Adam Weber, he can make some good throws when he's on and can get them points. You've got to be able to play every play.

Niles Brinkley got beat on a fade route to MarQueis Gray at the end of the second quarter to make it a game again. Is the fade route one of the hardest plays for a cornerback/safety to cover and how do you cover that?

Maragos: I'd say that's probably the hardest play to defend. First off as a defender, you are going to have some type of inside leverage in a man-to-man coverage, wanting to protect the inside of the field. When they get a fade release on you, you're working to stay hip to hip on him, especially with a big, tall receiver like Gray. You want to stay right on his hip pocket.

The other thing that's hard is as a defensive back, you've got to have in the back of your mind that they have the back shoulder they can throw at if you are on top or they can throw over the top because they have a tall game. It's difficult when you are running at full speed and they back shoulder you, you're not looking at the ball, you're looking at the receiver and then he stops and catches it. If you try to play the bac shoulder pass and the ball is coming over your head to a tall guy like that, it's a lose-lose in that situation. Your back is to the ball and they can put that fade ball in two different places. It's an extremely tough play to make.

I think the biggest thing I've learned as a defensive back and what I saw from guys who can play it right, which doesn't happen often, is really staying with the guy and playing throw his hands, trying to rip a hand through to knock the ball out. I think that's the best way to have success in a play like that.

On those three touchdown passes against Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Shelton Johnson, did they defend those the best way that they could have or could they have done something more?

Maragos: Brinkley was in great possession and that was a tough play. You're playing Division 1 football and everybody has playmakers. Sometimes, they are going to score and that was the situation there. I can't remember Fenelus' all that much but on Johnson's, it looked like UW was in some sort of Cover 2 and Johnson was playing a half coverage. The corner forced himself to the safety and the safety is playing a half field, so he has his vision on the quarterback to see where he was going to throw the ball. He threw it to the outside the guy and Johnson came over to make a play, but wasn't quite able to make it.

At the halfway point of the season, how has the secondary surprised you and in what areas do you think they need to improve, especially with the next two games looming?

Maragos: I think they are doing a great job improving every week. The guys are playing spirited, playing tough and they are a competitive group that plays hard. I think the biggest thing they need to take care of the next two weeks and what will be really important is taking care of the details on every play and not taking a play off. At the defensive back position, you mess up one play, it goes for six points and swings the momentum or switches field position. If a defensive lineman blows his gap, the problem goes to the linebacker. It doesn't work like that as a defensive back. When you are playing against a guy like Terrelle Pryor who likes to air it out and is going to throw it a lot, you really have to be focused on what you are doing to have success.

Would you have gone for two points up 25?

Maragos: Man, Coach Bielema called it, you're in a situation where you are going to go up 27 and you never know what's going to happen in a Wisconsin-Minnesota game. I think Coach Bielema was just playing it the way a coach would play to ensure his team would have success.

Wisconsin had some interesting battle in your two years against Ohio State (the defensive breakdown in Madison at the end of the game and out gaining them in yards last season) and come up short on the scoreboard. It's always important to play 60 minutes of good football, but it seems like it is essential to do that in order to beat Ohio State?

Maragos: It's extremely essential, more so than anybody. When you play a team like that, they obviously have talent, are well coached and will be able to execute, which gives you very little room for error. There's not much there. Physically, the Badgers stopped Minnesota in the last game, had a lot of good stops but had some bad penalties, like the roughing the kicker on a punt that gave Minnesota the ball back and put the defense back on the field. If you do those kind of things against Ohio State, especially in the fourth quarter, it'll be hard to win a ball game. You really have to play smart football and make the most of your opportunities. You have to capitalize on the few things they give you in all areas of the game. They are ranked number one in the country for a reason and in order to beat a team like that, you have to beat everything right.

Where did you feel last year's team fell short against Ohio State and how is this year's team better equipped to right last year's wrongs?

Maragos: I think the biggest thing is that this year's team is a special group because they have players at every position, they have no holes, they have a great coaching staff that puts them in great positions and really, the biggest thing is what this group does better than last year's group, particularly against Ohio State, is to capitalize. Even with the pick-six last year, our defense was holding them all game, we were still in it and then you have a special teams breakdown. I think this year's team can come back from what we did last year and capitalize on the things they need to.

Other than Pryor, which is the player that is the toughest match-up much for an offensive standpoint?

Maragos: Ohio State doesn't have that premier back, but Brandon Saine can run the ball. The thing about Ohio State is they are really balanced. They can run the ball, pass the ball and have a quarterback that can run it or pass it. They play great defense as a team, which is why I think they have so much success. Match-up problems, I think Wisconsin matches up really well with them. I think Pryor is the key to the whole game. If you can stop it and limit what he's doing, he makes the whole show run. If you eliminate him on the ground and threw the air, it's really going to limit what they can do.

We know what a win would do for this team getting over the Ohio State hump, but how do you think this team would take another loss to Ohio State, particularly if it's another close loss?

Maragos: Obviously, anytime you lose a game like that, it's tough. The thing about the guys about Wisconsin and just being on different teams and understanding different personalities and attitudes, there really isn't a lot that faces those Badgers. They really don't know anything else but to work hard and play for each other and the fans. That's what they pride themselves on. If they lost, would it hurt? Heck yeah. It's a big game at home. Those guys are going to keep trucking, keep pushing on and keep playing. I don't think it would falter those guys in terms of their mentality too much.

You are 5-1 this season. Wisconsin is 5-0 against unranked teams and 0-1 against ranked teams. What's your prediction for this game?

Maragos: When you look at the Badgers and you look at a team like Michigan State, the Spartans may be one of the most well balanced teams in the Big Ten. I think Wisconsin is better than Michigan State, but MSU plays great football. It was on the road and Wisconsin still had opportunities to win. With this game, I think this is going to be a close game. If the defensive backs can limit Pryor throwing deep balls and the defensive line can cause some havoc so he can't just sit back in the pocket, I think Wisconsin can really take it to these guys.

Looking at it from that point of view, Ohio State is No.1 in the country right now, the fact that it's a night game at Camp Randall, I think it's time for them. The guys have gone through a loss, understand the magnitude of this game and I think they are going to come out on top. I am going to say Wisconsin wins 27-24.


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