Tackling the Problem

Wisconsin's defense held UNLV to 2-for-12 on third downs, stymied the Rebels passing game and held its opening-week opponent to only three first-half points. That was the good news, but the negatives that came out of the game gave plenty for Wisconsin's co-defensive coordinators to preach about.

MADISON - The congratulatory remarks were barely sinking in after Wisconsin's 51-17 victory over UNLV Thursday when head coach Bret Bielema was blunt with his team: saying that he won't be the coach of a group that has that many penalties or makes foolish mistakes. It's obvious that tackling was fresh on the head coach's mind.

"We gave up some yardage in the first half," Bielema told the media later. "We've got to become better at tackling. We've got to make sure that we've got all our assignments, run support and all those good things."

When co-defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge flipped on the tape the next day, there were plenty of positives to digest. Wisconsin forced UNLV to 2 of 12 on third downs, started the second half with consecutive three-and-outs and managed to quickly install a new defense to counter the unbalanced offensive formations UNLV was running that cost the unit off guard.

"It was pretty drastic from we thought they were going to do to what they ended up doing," Ash said. "It didn't take long for us to realize that was their game plan and that we had to scramble and adjust."

But while both coordinators could list the number of positives they took away from the opener, both were in agreement that the negatives, particularly the missed tackling, created an eye soar that allowed UNLV to rush for 146 yards on the ground and have 10 plays of 10 or more yards.

"There are a number of things we really need to work on and the thing that everybody can see, whether you are a coach or a fan, is the missed tackling," Partridge said. "We need to get better at tackling. There were a number of tackles that led to first downs, which is disappointing."

Throw in the fact that both Ash and Partridge both felt the team let their foot off the gas as the second half progressed, both fiery coaches made sure to emphasize the points, especially with Oregon State bringing in a Malcolm Agnew, a true freshman running back that rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns last weekend.

"We were up 51-3 and it looks like the game is pretty much in hand, and we didn't play with the same enthusiasm and emotion that we had been playing with in the game," Ash said. "That's something we cannot do."

Should Partridge want, he can easily point his seniors to the problems missed tackling caused the team three seasons ago. In 2008, sloppy technique and a lack of disciplined caused the Badgers an unimaginable amount of extra yardage. Bring up that season to those that were around, those that care to remember point out the example of letting Iowa's Shonn Greene rush for a career-high 217 yards and four touchdowns in a 22-point loss, the fourth consecutive defeat the Badgers experienced in that black-eye year.

The tackling has been cleaned up considerably the last two seasons, but that memory still lingers for some that experienced it.

"Anytime you can refer to history, it's a good thing," Partridge said. "If we feel or sense anything, we can refer to that season because it's close enough for our guys to remember how disappointing it was. That season was detrimental to us."

It's the main reason such great care and time are spent fixing the problem and what seniors, like captain Aaron Henry, are calling a momentary setback. Every time Ash sees a missed tackle, he asks himself if the miss is a result of technique and fundamentals or the ability of the player? Ash thought he knew the answer before he even saw the film, and seemed relieved when the film confirmed that the lack of live tackling in fall camp led to a couple poor breakdowns.

"The ones we had are easily correctable because they were due to bad technique or not understanding the situations we were in," Ash said. "The first game is always a good test, but we gave up a lot of hidden yardage because of it."

Ash also said he was quick in the film room to address the breakdowns that let the Rebels get inside the Wisconsin 25-yard line five times, resulting in two touchdowns, one field goal and two missed field goals.

When Ash and Partridge took over for defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, they dispelled the ‘bend but don't break' mentality on defense, as the goal is always to keep them out of the red zone and goal line situations. With one win under their belts, the learning lessons have already started, and the upperclassmen are convinced that the message from their defensive coordinators hasn't fallen on deaf ears.

"In previous years when we were starting the season, tackling was an issue, but as we get towards the rest of the games, we were able fix it," Henry said. "If we don't want tackling to be an issue, that's something that we have to fix now. That's something that'll come with repetition. Once we consistently do it and do it at full speed, we are only going to get better at it as a group."

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