Silencing the MAC Juggernaut

Northern Illinois was averaging 40.5 points and 485.5 yards per game entering its contest with No.7 Wisconsin. It's obvious the numbers were skewed, as the Badgers' suffocating defense slowed down the Huskies' fast-paced offense to just 237 total yards in a 49-7 Badgers victory.

CHICAGO - Wisconsin senior free safety Aaron Henry remembers when Dave Doeren showed up at his door in Immokalee, Fla. and helped make him a Wisconsin football player.

That closeness resonated even on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field when Henry and his defensive mates suffocated their former mentor's Northern Illinois offense into just a single touchdown in UW's 49-7 romp.

"It was truly a blessing and honor to go up against him," Henry said. "He'll always hold a place near and dear to my heart. But when we're out on the field, Coach Doeren knows it's all business. It's a love-hate relationship battling against each other."

After UW polished off its 31st consecutive regular season non-conference game and 11th outside Camp Randall Stadium, Doeren told Henry "to go out and win the whole thing."

That's becoming closer and closer to reality, and not just because the headlines adore quarterback Russell Wilson and Wisconsin's high-powered offense. The defense has been quietly solid as well, allowing 8.0 points per game and none of its first three opponents to reach 300 offensive yards.

"We've got guys making plays all over the place, Henry said. "Our defensive coaches are doing a tremendous job in making the defense simple."

Without adding too many wrinkles or razzle-dazzle, the Badgers stuffed NIU's offense into a season-low 237 total yards, barely more than half the Huskies' output just last week at Kansas.

"We really play pretty simple. We don't try to get overly cute on defense," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I think a lot of people in today's day and age try to get too gadgety, too pretty, too fancy. If we just line up and let our guys play fast, keep the ball in front of us and tackle well, that's a formula for success."

"Our coaches preach make tackles and run to the ball," added junior cornerback Marcus Cromartie, who made eight tackles in his first start in place of the injured Devin Smith. "As long as you do that, good things are going to happen."

Sophomore mike linebacker Chris Borland tried not to think about the fact nobody outside the Wisconsin program knows Wisconsin's defense better than the man with a headset on the opposing sideline Saturday.

"It really didn't enter my mind during the game," Borland said. "It may have entered some guys' minds, but we've got enough to focus on.

"Obviously, we had to switch from things that he created that are still a part of our defense," Borland added. "Didn't have to change too much, and we didn't let that mess with our heads."

Borland's pass rush helped contain NIU's two-quarterback look of Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. UW's defense got off the field on nine of 13 third-down opportunities.

"You set up good situations on third down, on first and second. I think we did that," Borland said. "Third down's what football's all about, you've got to win third downs."

They say defense wins championships. And as the Big Ten Conference beckons just two weeks away, the UW unit is playing well enough to complement its offense as their goals remain higher than Chicago's Willis (Sears) Tower.

"We definitely have something special here," Henry said. "The only way we're going to lose, we feel, is if we beat ourselves."


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