Badgering the Offense

Barely showing any of the defensive installs it had spent all spring working on, Wisconsin's veteran defense showed that, even when they are playing basic, they can be still pretty good.

MADISON – With Wisconsin's annual spring game being televised to the country on the Big Ten Network, first-year head coach Gary Andersen was reluctant to put defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's high-pressure 3-4 defense on full display for opposing Big Ten coaches to critique.

But even using a defense he called ‘vanilla,' the Badgers showed how stingy of a defense it can be.

In Saturday's annual spring game, Wisconsin's defense registered 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks, numbers that spoke much louder than the 61-47 final score caused primarily by a fluky scoring system put in place by Andersen to generate fan appeal.

"Overall it was very productive," said Andersen. "We got exactly what we wanted out of it."

Wisconsin is one of 10 teams that ranked in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense for each of the last two seasons. Last season, Wisconsin ranked 15th nationally in total defense (322.6 yards per game) and 17th nationally in scoring defense (19.1 points per game).

And while Wisconsin returns only six seniors on defense, the Badgers return a bevy of younger, talented that was on display in front of 12,050 fans.

With six projected starters on the sidelines due to rest or off-season surgeries, sophomore Joe Schobert – a converted safety – capped an impressive spring with seven tackles and a sack. Senior Conor O'Neill – often a backup in UW's crowded linebacker corps – finished with six tackles and a sack and UW's young secondary – Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary – looked right at home despite no career starts.

"We played a pretty good game together without a lot of guys," said senior linebacker Chris Borland, one of the starters who sat out as a precaution. "Hopefully we made somewhat of a statement, but we have a long way to go … On paper, it excited. There's no reason we can't be an elite defense."

For years Wisconsin used the bend-but-don't-break mentality with its defense, content with giving up yards as long as it kept opponents out of the end zone. Under Aranda, the message is drastically different. Not only does Aranda want to put pressure on opposing offenses, he wants to do it on every play.

During spring practices, sophomore quarterback Joel Stave said he felt like he was seeing new blitzes and schemes every practice.

"It's a tough defense to really get a feel for, especially playing in the Big Ten and playing against our defense for a few years," said Stave. "Now that we have that odd front and moving the linebackers around here and there, it's different, but it's going to be really good for us.

"If we can prepare for a team like us, we'll be able to prepare for a team like anyone out there."

Wisconsin's spring game showed the Badgers are strong in a variety of vital areas. Although senior James White was held out, sophomore Melvin Gordon showed he can be an effective runner between the tackles. While the Badgers are still in search of a solid No.2 and No.3 tight end, Wisconsin's tight ends are a formidable unit and an offensive line continues to build chemistry.

If those units get up to the level that Wisconsin's defense is currently playing at, there's no telling how good 2013 could be.


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