Mondays with Maragos

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is finding his niche in the NFL. He rejoins Badger Nation for a weekly insider look at Wisconsin football, talking about Russell Wilson, what UW player needs to provide a spark to Wisconsin's defense, how much better UW needs to play now that conference play has started and where he sees this team after four weeks.

MADISON - The football journey of Chris Maragos is something that most every Wisconsin natives dream about growing up.

A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.

Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.

Every week, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.

This week, Maragos addresses playing with Russell Wilson, what UW player needs to provide a spark to Wisconsin's defense, how much better UW needs to play now that conference play has started and where he sees this team after four weeks.

You watched Russell Wilson from afar last season and now you are his teammate. What's it like being his teammate and seeing some of those same characteristics?

Maragos First off it's awesome to be a teammate with him just because of who he is. Anytime you have a guy of that stature who handles himself, you can always take things form him and apply that to yourself. Definitely having a guy like that around is a huge asset not just for myself, but for the team. It's absolutely fun to play with a guy like him. Going into a game, I know and the team knows that Russell did absolutely everything possible to prepare himself and the team to be success. To have a confidence in that is a great feeling to have.

Russell never got rattled in his time at Wisconsin and that's what you need at that position isn't it?

Maragos No question. I think that's one of his greatest assets is that he's so even keeled. He can handle anytime of blow, especially some of the things he has been involved with on and off the field. I think it's prepared him for all things that come his way, no matter what it is. He does a good job evaluating what the issue is and using a good problem-solving way to be able to overcome it.

What about impressed you the way Joel Stave handled his first start at such an important position and what do you remember about your first start?

Maragos No question. My first start was nerve wracking. I had already for years at Western Michigan and played college football until I got my first start at Wisconsin playing on defense. I tell you what, you're nervous. You're trying to make things happen, not screw up and that's at a position where you don't touch the ball every play like a quarterback. For him to be able to get that experience and play as good as he did, the kid is bright and it's definitely encouraging to see a kid who has so much room to grow play like that. He has a lot of potential to be a really good play.

Fans are going to want to compare Stave's performance to Danny O'Brien's performances, which is hard because of two different game plans against two different teams that have different talent levels. How do you try to find the good in each performance?

Maragos You can take some things away and other things are more difficult. You have to look at somebody's command. No matter what the game plan is, that's pretty general and you can get a good idea of the arm strength, the way they diagnosis things and the way they step up in the pocket. Those are pretty similar through every game. Concepts and coverages are going to change things, but I think you look at what Stave did, he made some nice down-the-field throws which is what Wisconsin needs to happen in its offense because they like to run the ball. I saw some really good things, and you hope it's only going to get better, especially now that there are going to be some tougher opponents coming up that he'll need to make those same plays against.

How do you view how the defense performed? Wisconsin held UTEP to under 100 yards rushing and 300 yards passing, but gave up 26 points.

Maragos I think you saw a lot of good individual play and then you saw some bad individual play. I think the biggest thing as a defense is if you want to limit opponent's success and plays, you have to limit the explosive plays, period. If you can do that, you give yourself a really good shot of winning the game. Forget turnovers, because those things will come, but you have to eliminate explosive plays. When you don't do that, you are susceptible to a lot of points being put on the board or a short field for the other's team offense or your team's offense. It's going to be really important, especially for the defensive backs, to play every single play and not have a mental lapse. You don't know which play is going to go for six points or for 60 yards.

How good of a cornerback is Devin Smith in your eyes and how have you seen him progress throughout the season?

Maragos Honestly, Devin has a lot of experience and a guy that is comfortable back there. I just want to see him take that next step where he starts dominating. That's where I see him now. He's at that age where he has so much football under his belt that he needs to be a difference maker on every down. He needs to take things over. He's done a good job in a lot of areas being a guy who is reliable, but he needs to spark the team.

Where do you think this team is after four weeks heading into conference play where the intensity is going to get increased?

Maragos The intensity is going to go way up and the margin of error is going to go way down. The margin of error is going to be incredibly slim, especially at Nebraska. For me how I see the team when I see them play, I think they are still trying to find an identity. They are still trying to find that mix. They are still trying to find out how they mix together and how they play together. You have a lot of guys at new positions and it doesn't look like everybody is comfortable yet or clicking on all cylinders. They obviously have the coaching and talent to be a good football team if they get that mix right.

Bret Bielema said it was a silver lining that Wisconsin has been in four four-quarter games this season while some other opponents, like Nebraska, has blown out three teams and lost a close game. Do you think all these close games are good or do you wish Wisconsin would have had a blowout where they clicked from start to finish?

Maragos I definitely see the good in that because close games are what they are going to have in Big Ten play. However, I think I would like to see, in a perfect ideal situation, some really tough games early going into the conference schedule and see a game where they really blow a team out to get the confidence up, to get the feeling of scoring a lot of points or stopping a team. To get that feeling of get the ball rolling is huge. Adversity is going to build character and they've been grinding when other teams haven't been grinding.

Where was the toughest college venue you played in and why was it so tough?

Maragos Good question. I would say the Horseshoe at Ohio State was pretty tough. Anytime you are isolated and there are so many fans of the opposite, you have to really be together and on guard for each other, working for each other and overcoming obstacles together. There really has to be strength in that and you have to have a tremendous amount of character in guys. There will be extra adversity place on you being on the road in a hostile environment. You have to be that much more mentally strong, mentally tough and fight through a lot of barriers, which is tough to do.

Where there times when the environment got the better of you and your teammates?

Maragos If you hit a low point in the game where the other team gets momentum, the pressure really gets ratcheted up. I tell guys when we're in that position even now that you have to be twice as good. You have to go twice as hard to squash out the crowd and the momentum the players on the other team is getting from that. It's difficult to do. Your leadership has to step up and really have guys that push forward.

What's the key when you face a dual-threat quarterback to make sure that he doesn't become a dual-threat quarterback? The matchup between Wisconsin and Nebraska junior cornerback Taylor Martinez will be key for the Badgers this weekend.

Maragos For me personally from seeing him playing, I would take away his running game. I think that's when he can get most dangerous. I think his best asset his running and I don't think he's as good of a passer as a runner. If you take away his ability to get comfortable and make big plays on the ground, you have a good chance.

What will Michael Trotter and Dezmen Southward have to key on from the safety position to make sure they don't give up the big plays against Nebraska?

Maragos I would say when you are back you are back and when you are up you are up. If you are playing deep, stay deep, especially against a guy who can extend the play and who is very mobile. You have to do what we call ‘plaster' the receivers when he rolls out. You have to get behind the guy in your zone and stay on them longer in coverage. The plays become longer than they normally would be, so you have to play with great communication between the corners and the other safety. Everything needs to be tight on the string to limit the opponent.

What do you think the key is for Wisconsin this weekend and what is your prediction?

Maragos Going on the road in a hostile environment, you need great defense and your special teams to stay in the game. The defense is going to have to play great in limiting Taylor Martinez and they are going to have to come out big. Whether it be forcing turnovers or creating a long field for the offense of Nebraska, the defense will have to do its part and the offense will have to score touchdowns and not field goals.

If that can happen, I think Wisconsin has a good shot at winning this game. I am going to go …. 28-27 Badgers.

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