Musings from Maragos - Penn State

Running out of the tunnel to a screaming Camp Randall, senior day feels like yesterday to former UW safety Chris Maragos, especially with all the great memories of beating Michigan. In his weekly column, Maragos talks about the importance of last weekend and breaks down the Nittany Lions' offense.

MADISON - In his weekly column, former Wisconsin safety Chris Maragos talks about the importance of winning a four quarter game, his impression of Penn State's defense and the Nittany Lion turmoil and his memories from senior day.

BN: After dropping their first two four quarter games of the seasons, Wisconsin finally pulled it together and won a four quarter game at Illinois. When they didn't play its best game, how important it is for a team to win a game like that to build confidence? It's almost could be more satisfying that a huge blowout, couldn't it?

Maragos: No question. I think it really proves that they are back on the right track, focusing on the details and really focusing on finishing. They are really taking advantages that they have, especially in the second half and on the road. The secondary made a lot of big plays at different points that made a different mark in the game. Any time you get a great effort like that, especially in the second half that affected the outcome, it's big for you.

BN: At your time at Wisconsin and in the NFL, how important is it to a whole defense when you have a cornerback, like Antonio Fenelus, who is matched up with the opponent's No.1 receiver, shuts him down and creating momentum for the entire defense?

Maragos: It's really important. Just from me speaking from a safety standpoint, when I know that I have a cornerback that is locked down, there are a lot of ways that I can play. I can drift to other parts of the field. I know in certain routes combinations, I can learn more heavy to the other side and get myself involved in more plays because I have confident in the guy to handle business and know that he won't need the overlap that I would give to him. It really frees up the safety to make some different plays on the ball and be a little bit more aggressive.

With the play calling, there are so many different things you can call in terms of coverage. You can lock that guy up in man-to-man and bracket or double the other side. You can rotate some coverages to the other side to really shut down the other side and not have to worry about the corner in one-on-one coverage. It's really opens things up when you have a corner playing like Fenelus.

BN: Schematically, how hard is it to prepare for a team that uses two quarterbacks like Illinois did and Penn State sometimes does, especially when they do different things?

Maragos: That's the tough part because anytime you prepare for the offense and you are getting ready for the game, you understand certain quarterback's strengths and weaknesses. You understand what plays the coordinators can call within that quarterbacks limitations. Anytime you have a duel-threat quarterback or two quarterbacks, you really have to prepare two different ways. You only have so much time to practice and you can only do so much to work against that situation. It really cuts your preparation in half for each guy and limits the amount of looks you are going to get. You definitely need to watch the film and take advantage of every rep.

BN: Penn State debuted the Wildcat formation last week and really caught Ohio State off guard. From your experience, what's the big thing a defense has to prepare against an offense that runs a unique formation?

Maragos: Any time you get the Wildcat, the guy who is getting the ball, you are one. There is a guy who is not accounting for the quarterback. You are one up because he is the guy running it most of the time and there is a lot of misdirection plays that comes from it. It will be interesting because Penn State will have to continue to protect what they do well but this Wildcat that they have, you'll probably see one or two more plays off of it. I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of trick play or a misdirection play that they showed last week that Wisconsin would be preparing for. There is only so much they can do, rep and implement within a week, but they could be big-shot type plays, especially playing in Camp Randall.

BN: You've played against a lot of different offenses. What offense was the hardest to prepare for, why and where does the Wildcat rank?

Maragos: The Wildcat is up there because of all the different things they can do out of it. Sometimes the quarterback is flexed out why, sometimes the quarterback isn't even on the field and it just depends on what personnel is out there because you really don't know what's going to come. I always felt like the spread offense was the hardest one to guard against because of all the space it creates, how the offense keyed different guys with the zone read and the run-pass option that they have. As a defense, all 11 guys have to be assignment sound every single play to do everything correctly and proper. If one guy is off, it screws the whole thing up and there are big time seams in the defense. Throw in the misdirection with the spread, there are a lot of open field tackles and a lot of space. It definitely makes things more difficult.

BN: You got a chance to see Chris Borland develop for one year. How far as he come from the shoulder injuries to learning a new position to playing some of his best football over the last several weeks?

Maragos: Chris is an impressive guy. He has a great head on his shoulders, works really hard and is a great guy and a tremendous athlete, too. What he has been able to do, moving from outside to inside, has been tremendous. He is so versatile and he really does a good job making everyone around him better. Moving from outside to inside is a whole different world. You are doing a lot more checks and balances, your reads are different, your drops are different and you have to reprogram all the things you learn to play the position. He's done a great job and is helping the defense out. His presence has been felt.

BN: Put yourself in the position of a Penn State player. How do you think you would feel after having such a great start to your season, especially being a solid defense, and then being an innocent bystander in the crossfire that has happened over the last three weeks?

Maragos: It would be tough just because you have been around JoePa, recruited by him, spent time with him and developed that bond. With all the media attention, it's hard to focus on what you are doing athletically. I give those guys a lot of credit for the way they are fighting and they are persevering. You definitely hope they can repair the tradition that they have because Penn State has been such a great institution and so great for the conference.

When you are playing against a team like that coached by a man like that, you can just feel the tradition. You sense the amount of pride those guys have and you can feel Paterno's presence. As a competitor, you go out there to play and compete.

Believe me, all the guys on the team in the locker room are using that as motivation and not going ‘woe is me.' They are sticking together in a tough time and are playing hard and for each other. They are going to go out and represent their university well. They know what's at stake in this game and Wisconsin does as well. It's going to be a dogfight and I am really looking forward to these two teams playing.

You hope Penn State can bounce back, but not this Saturday.

BN: When there is a championship or a bowl victory on the line where you as a player have a chance to win a title, could you feel extra motivation or excitement in the locker room compared to any other game?

Maragos: Any time you are playing a game, you are going into a game having prepared hard for it. With it being senior day and with the natural ramifications that this game, guys will be watching a little bit extra film and do a little extra preparation that night. For the chance to play Michigan State again, these guys will be ready to rock. Everybody knows it's going to take the best effort for either team to win the football game. It's going to go down as one of the better games to watch this year in the Big Ten.

BN: Penn State has the No.1 scoring defense in the conference and Wisconsin has the No.1 scoring offense. In your mind, what's the key to this game if Wisconsin wants to win?

Maragos: I really think the key to this game is going to be Wisconsin's wide receivers, especially Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. Because of what Montee Ball is doing and the tradition of the offensive line, you know Wisconsin is going to want to come out and establish the run. But to really open the running game, Wisconsin will need the receivers to play big and Russell Wilson will have to stretch the field vertically to open up the secondary and running lanes and make them really balanced. The receivers are going to have a big say in whether UW's offense is successful or not.

BN: Who wins and final score?

Maragos: I am going to say 24-21 Badgers.

BN: Last thing, you remember senior day forever. What do you remember for senior day and how special it was to run out of the tunnel with the students and fans yelling and meeting your family at the other end?

Maragos: Leading up to it, you have all the emotions of playing your last game in Camp Randall. To be honest, it's hard to believe because you think you will be running out there again next week and play in front of the whole state. It's really a special opportunity for them to reflect on their career, reflect on being recruited or not be recruited out of high school and the road it takes to get to that day with all the work and preparation it took to last that long in the program. To run out of that tunnel and thinking about all the things you have accomplished and represent your team and your family, it's such a special thing and something I never forget. It's something they'll never forget either.

I remember thinking in the locker room of all the different things that happened to get me to that point in my career. It was a really special day and you want to go out with a win. We did that by spanking Michigan pretty good. I remember coming out to the tunnel, how special that day was to rejoice in, how well we played and being on the field after the game with the seniors to take pictures and having my family there. Partying with the students in the Fifth Quarter and running off the field for the last time, those moments are just special.

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