Defense Makes A Bold Statement

Beaten up by two spread offenses in two of the past three games, Wisconsin's defense viewed the challenge of No.19 Northwestern as a chance to prove to the country it can still be a dynamic defense. With seven sacks and no touchdowns allow, the message was well received.

MADISON – Chris Borland admits he's not into predictions and especially is not a fan of looking ahead on the schedule. But sensing the importance of Saturday's game against No.19 Northwestern – likely the last ranked opponent Wisconsin is going to see for some time – the senior captain felt that the Badgers' defense needed some words of wisdom in order to make the desired statement.

"Always coming off a bye, regardless of our record or whether it was a statement game, you want to make sure guys don't come out flat," said Borland. "I said a few words to get guys excited."

Carrying Borland's stern words of how good they could be in their hip pocket, Wisconsin's well-rested defense delivered its best statement of the season by shutting down the Wildcats' vaunted system in a 35-6 thrashing at Camp Randall Stadium.

Melvin Gordon rushed for 172 yards and two scores and Joel Stave balanced out two interception with three touchdown passes, but the defense was the story for a Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) team that has now outscored Northwestern 105-to-29 in the last two meetings.

The Wildcats advanced into UW territory on their first two drives, but the first drive ended with Sojourn Shelton's team-leading third interception and the second with a goal-line stand that forced a field goal. Over the next 13 drives, the Wildcats (4-2, 0-2) only scratched into Wisconsin territory twice and never past the 25-yard line.

"Defense was awesome all day long," said head coach Gary Andersen. "I thought they swarmed to the ball. I thought they communicated. They tackled well.

"I thought they blitzed with an attitude. I thought defense had an edge all the way around."

While this Northwestern win didn't have the same type of magnitude at the one that clinched UW's first of three straight conference championships in 2010, the Badgers' first win over a ranked team this season seemed to cure a lot of defensive ails, especially with three first-half touchdown passes by Ohio State junior Braxton Miller still sticking in their minds.

Facing a Northwestern offense averaging 474.0 yards per game and 255.6 passing yards entering the game, the Badgers held the Wildcats to 243 and 197, respectively, and kept a mobile quarterback – senior Kain Colter – in check with only 10 rushing yards.

"We did a quarterback study where (junior quarterback Trevor) Siemian drops to seven yards and Colter drops to nine," said Borland. "The containment is different. He's a one-read guy who looks to get out afterwards. I think those two things help. Guys were smart in their rushes."

All this came from a Wisconsin defense that is the second-best scoring defense (14.6 ppg) and total defense (272.6 ypg) entering the weekend, but a unit that had seniors, like outside linebacker Brendan Kelly, frustrated for underperforming in key opportunities through the first third of the season.

Heading into a game with a list of 10 goals, senior defensive linemen Beau Allen and Pat Muldoon said Wisconsin accomplished nine of them, only falling short on forcing one of their desired three turnovers.

"We got a pretty good number (of goals)," said Muldoon. "We were definitely down from both of our losses. The defense didn't play as well as we wanted to. We didn't do good on third down. We didn't get all those sacks, so to come out here against a real good offense and a good team (and) do that gives us a lot of confidence. Hopefully we can carry that on the rest of the season."

The most glaring of the accomplishments was on third down. UW's defense was sixth in the conference in opponents' third-down conversion rate (32.4 percent) and facing a team completing 48.6 percent on the down. Wisconsin responded by limiting Northwestern to 2 of 17 and seven three-and-outs.

"We haven't played to our potential on third down," said Borland. "We've been presented with opportunities to get after the quarterback. A lot of time third down success is predicated on first down success, especially against Northwestern. They like to stay head of the chains. We were winning on first down."

Facing a pair of high-powered spread offenses this season against Arizona State and Ohio State, Wisconsin allowed 11 plays of 20 yards or longer this season. Holding an offense averaging 218.4 rushing yards per game to 44 rushing yards on 25 carries (1.8 yards per carry), Wisconsin allowed one pass play of 46 yards in the second quarter and one of 25 in the fourth quarter.

After halftime, Northwestern practically abandoned the run, having only six attempts.

"As a defense, you always preach how you have to stop big plays and you can't give up big plays," said Allen. "A lot of times big plays are due to mental breakdowns … I thought we did a great job of limiting their big plays today."

Northwestern entered the weekend as one of the more impressive offensive units – scoring at least 30 points in seven straight games, averaging 39.0 points per game and had its two quarterbacks completion 72.3 percent of its passes; a number that ranked them fourth nationally.

To counter, Wisconsin implemented a peso-blitz package with Vince Biegel and Kelly to bring constant pressure from the outside of the tackles, something Muldoon said Wisconsin hasn't shown much this season. The result was Northwestern completing only 43.6 percent of its passes (17 of 39) and seven different Badgers registering sacks, five on Siemian and two on Colter.

"Coach Aranda really emphasized getting after the passer," said Biegel. "Me and Brendan Kelly coming off the edge (on) third-down call, long second-down call. I think we were really excited to just get after the passer, do what we love to do and let the leash loose."

Wisconsin's main receiving weapon – Jared Abbrederis – was ruled out with a head injury earlier in the second quarter, but the Badgers' offense strangely didn't miss a beat. Averaging 18.3 yards on the four drives with Abbrederis on the field, the Badgers averaged 45 yards on their final 11 drives, four of which went at least nine plays and put up 28 points on the board.

That was more than enough for Wisconsin's defense, which released plenty of pent-up frustrations on one of the top 20 teams in the country.

"We knew today was going to be a statement game for us defensively," said Allen. "It's something we talked about all week."

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