"I think people really question if we have a very good defense," Badgers senior Patrick Butrym said.
After a unit that had lost two starters in the past week surrendered a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive to Nebraska early in the second quarter Saturday that gave the Cornhuskers a 7-point lead, critics seemingly had every right to question the defense.
But sophomore linebacker Chris Borland and the rest of the gang didn't sweat.
"Just stick to the game plan," Borland thought.
Wisconsin's defense answered the early adversity by holding Nebraska to just 53 yards its next six possessions, allowing the offense to rattle off 34 unanswered points as the Badgers rolled 48-17 over the eight-ranked team in the country.
"(Saturday), I think we definitely got better against a very prolific offense," Butrym said. "These guys have the ability to make big plays at any time in the game. I think we definitely got better."
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez (105.2 rushing yards per game) and junior tailback Rex Burkhead (105) each entered Saturday averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game for No. 8 Nebraska (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten), but Wisconsin (5-0, 1-0) held Martinez to just 68 yards on the ground and 77 of Burkhead's 98 yards came on his team's final two meaningless possessions.
Burkhead capped a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge just over 2 minutes into the second quarter as the Cornhuskers opened a 14-7 lead on the Badgers. Martinez was 3-for-3 for 68 yards on the drive, completing passes of 29 and 28 yards to wide-open receivers.
"We just had to pull everybody together and make sure the safeties communicated," Wisconsin senior safety Aaron Henry said. "We had a couple mishaps back there in the secondary, but it was just a communication lapse. That's all it was. Once we got over to the sideline, started talking about it a little bit, guys came together and we knew what we had to do."
Badgers junior linebacker Mike Taylor picked off an errant throw by Martinez with just under 5 minutes remaining in the opening half, setting the stage for a 6-play drive capped by a 36-yard touchdown catch by sophomore Jared Abbrederis.
Just five offensive plays after Abbrederis' score, Henry intercepted an overthrown ball from Martinez. Wisconsin capitalized off Nebraska's second turnover with a 46-yard touchdown reception by senior Nick Toon.
"That was big," Borland said of the interceptions. "We did a decent job of stopping the run, so they had to throw a little bit and we took advantage of a couple plays."
Martinez threw his third interception on the Cornhuskers' first play of the second half. After starting 5-for-7 on his team's first three drives, Martinez completed just 6 of 15 passes the remainder of the game.
"The thing we did is make them sit back there, make them make decisions, and we forced (Martinez) to throw a couple interceptions," Butrym said. "He's so dangerous with his feet, and if you're aggressive with your pass rush, he'll take off on you, make big plays."
The Badgers were without the services of junior safety Shelton Johnson (calf) and junior defensive end David Gilbert (foot). Johnson left last week's game against South Dakota with a left-calf bruise and was a game-time decision Saturday, while Gilbert suffered a broken foot early in the week that will sideline him four-to-six weeks.
Believe it or not, Wisconsin's defense didn't appear to miss them.
"It's part of our philosophy. Injuries are a part of football," Borland said. "It says a lot about our depth, a lot about how our guys step up and perform day in and day out."