Wisconsin's Defense Hitting its Stride

Having held FBS opponents to 14.4 points below the scoring average of their other games this season, Wisconsin - now No.16 in the AP poll - is seeing its defense round into form during its five game winning streak.

MADISON - In the midst of their longest winning streak in two seasons, seniors Beau Allen and Chris Borland admit there hasn't been one moment that has defined the recent dominance of the Badgers' senior-laden defense. Basically all it took was a little time for all the pieces to be molded together.

Wisconsin – which moved up one spot to No.16 in the AP poll and three spots to No.19 in the BCS – have held six opponents to their lowest scoring output of the season. That mark included Saturday's 51-3 win over Indiana to give the program at least eight wins for the fifth straight season.

"Indiana averaged (over) 40 points per game and we gave up three," said Allen. "In our minds that's three to many. Hopefully that continues. The way we prepare and our offensive plan will allow us to do so."

Part of the success for Wisconsin has been the run defense; a scheme that was remade during the offseason with the transition to the 3-4 formation installed by first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Although the change has required multiple position switches and a reconfiguration of the entire defensive line, Wisconsin has limited opponents to an average of just 4.3 yards per play, the fifth-best average of any FBS defense, and 98.8 rushing yards per game – seventh nationally.

"We started off the season with a high ceiling, and I think we really have grown each week," said Borland. "That's the mark of a great team and a great defense is to improve weekly … Guys are improving by leaps and bounds both individually and as a unit."

The annual border battle with Minnesota will be a change of pace for Wisconsin's defense. After facing two of the four fastest-operating offenses in the FBS in consecutive weeks – BYU is No.2 nationally at 19.2 seconds per play and Indiana is fourth at 19.5 – the Badgers' defense will adjust to the second-slowest FBS offense in Minnesota (30.6 seconds/per play).

"You don't see the fast break football, which will be a nice fresh breath of air for maybe both teams as you sit and look at it," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "They want to establish the run game. They want to run the ball. They want to be productive in the run game."

To do that, the Gophers incorporate one of Wisconsin's favorite weapons – the fly and jet sweep. It was a major weapon for Wisconsin last week, as wide receiver Jared Abbrederis scored on a 32-yard and 49-yard run, and will be a unique challenge considering few schools have attempted the play against UW's defense.

"They have elements of a pro-style offense," said Borland, who described Minnesota's offense as a combination of Wisconsin's and BYU's. "It requires you to realign quickly and keep your eyes on your keys. They do a lot of pre-snap stuff to get you out of position."

The rivalry between the two schools has waned in recent years with Wisconsin winning nine straight to match the longest winning streak by either team in the series, but there's championship implications in the latest meeting in the season between the two schools since 2002.

Both have an outside chance to win its respective divisions. Wisconsin needs to win out and have No.5 Ohio State to lose its remaining two games (home vs. Indiana and at Michigan) to compete for a fourth straight conference championship.

Minnesota also needs to win out and have Michigan State lose at Northwestern this weekend (the Gophers travel to East Lansing for the regular season finale) to clinch a share of the Legends Division and play in the conference title game for the first time.

The Gophers have won four straight games, winning by an average of 7.75 points per game.

"They keep plowing through games and keep battling through there," Andersen said of Minnesota. "They expect themselves to make plays at the end to win. It's a well-rounded football team. You can see why they won the games that they won when they're closely dissected on film, which we're still in the process of doing."

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