A Badgering Defensive Performance

Wisconsin may be clicking offensively and playing clean football, but the Badgers' defense is running rickshaw, as the defense forced six turnovers to help the Badgers clinch a share of the conference title.

MADISON — Finding a weakness with the 2010 Wisconsin football team is a lot like the jumbled mess at the top of the BCS rankings; Whatever perceived weaknesses you point to, it is going to be nitpicking in the extreme.

Still, if there is one area the Badgers could improve on this season, it is forced turnovers from the defense. Coming into the game, the UW defenders had caused opposing offenses to cough the ball up merely 16 times, good for ninth in the conference.

On Saturday, the UW 'D' nailed in place the final peg of their elite team building block set.

Wisconsin ran roughshod over Northwestern in a 70-23 win. While pinning down the best moment of the game with a 47-point margin of victory might be a task in absurdity, the five forced turnovers Wisconsin came up with in the first half (seven for the game) might rank as the most impressive aspect of the victory.

The Badgers accomplished the turnover bonanza in every way imaginable.

Jay Valai got the party started with an interception after Aaron Henry knocked the ball loose and J.J. Watt hurried the throw from Northwestern quarterback Evan Watkins. On the very next drive, Watt edge rushed right into the face of Watkins, picking up a sack and forcing a fumble that Tyler Dippel recovered.

Two possessions, two turnovers. A pretty decent start.

Watkins then invoked the pass-is-good-as-a-kick rule, throwing 46-yards down the field on third down and watching Antonio Fenelus catch the ball in stride like a wide receiver.

Three possessions and three turnovers and the Wildcats were pretty much done.

"It was Wisconsin playing Wisconsin football," Watt said. "We didn't do anything fancy or out of the ordinary. We played our style of football, we won the football game the way we do it and now we're heading to Pasadena because of it."

Given that Wisconsin already possesses the top scoring offense in the Big Ten, the Badgers quickly took advantage of the gifted field position. UW scored 21 points off the five first half turnovers.

The three touchdown scoring drives took just 37 seconds, 1:36 and 1:35 of game time for the Badgers to pour 21 points onto the board.

"That was awesome," sophomore center Peter Konz said of the defense. "They played their butts up. Sometimes we would just get back to sit down after some of those plays and then we'd be right back out there. Come on, give us a break guys."

As usual, Watt was at the forefront of the playmaking surge in one of his most impressive stat-filling performance of the year. Watt did everything, registering seven tackles (all solos), three for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles and three quarterback hurries.

His hurry on Valai's interception forced Watkins to rush his throw. The speed rush for his first sack of the game caught the Wildcats off guard, and the hit on Watkins's arm was textbook from a defensive line coach. Watt showed the tenacity and hustle that has marked his season, chasing down Watkins from behind and forcing a fumble that Henry recovered after a first down run.

Finally, Watt blocked his third kick of the season, rejecting an extra point attempt late in the third quarter, going full blast even though UW was already up 63-23.

"At his position and what he's done for the defense, I can't say there's anybody in our league that is comparable," UW Coach Bret Bielema said.

Henry put the icing on the cake with his third defensive touchdown of the season and second turnover of the day at the end of the third quarter, taking an errant Watkins pass back 50 yards to put Wisconsin at 70 points in the game.

"Very disappointed in our effort from the standpoint of taking care of the football," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "(It's) our No.1 objective of the game, and we didn't do that. So you give a football team a short field, give a good team momentum at home, you pretty much beat yourself."

After forcing seven turnovers in their first eight games, the Badgers defense forced at least two turnovers in each of the last three games, totaling 16 takeaways. No wonder Wisconsin is taking an offense to Pasadena that has scored 201 points in the last three weekends.

"I had a blast doing it," Watt said. "When you work all that stats in with the fact that we won a Big Ten Championship and our going to the Rose Bowl, this is the greatest game I have played in my life."


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