MADISON -The difference between a good and great defense is the ability to be able to create turnovers. Members of Wisconsin’s defense admit they still have a lot of work to do in order to be great, but they’ve shown through four games that they can create turnovers.
After only forcing 20 turnovers last season, Wisconsin upped its four-game total to seven turnovers after its two-turnover performance helped the Badgers to a 27-10 victory over South Florida Saturday.
Having forced at least one turnover in each game, Wisconsin came up with two timely turnovers, none was bigger than true freshman Lubern Figaro, who had the game-changing interception last week, chasing down fullback Kennard Swanson to force a fumble on UW’s 10-yard line.
“Huge play by Lubern Figaro,” Head Coach Gary Andersen said. “What an unbelievable play by a true freshman. In a situation to make that play at that moment was impressive, great effort, great care factor. Those are the plays that change games and those are the plays that often times change seasons. You have to have a few of them.”
Wisconsin was leading 20-10 when Swanson snuck out of the backfield on a wheel route, going uncovered as he ran for 52 yards down the sideline before Figaro was able to catch up to him.
“I was kind of eyeing the ball up the whole time,” said linebacker Vince Biegel, who was able to recover the fumble. “Lubern hit the ball with his helmet and I kind of simultaneously picked up the ball as he hit it, and it was a fortunate play by us. It was a huge play, and I think it was a huge momentum swing because they were about to go down there and score. It was a huge play by Lubern.”
Wisconsin has entered every game this season with the goal of three turnovers; a lofty bar they’ve set for themselves this season considering the number of plays they’ve limited the opposition to.
“The number of plays they ran today (38) is going to be pretty difficult to get to three turnovers because their plays were way down.,” said Andersen. “I would say when we are moving towards an aggressive defense, we're making strides in that area.”
Senior linebacker Derek Landisch had the first turnover of the day when he picked off quarterback Mike White off a deflection in the second quarter, a tip drill similar to the ones the Badgers work on in practice.
“We do takeaway circuits filling up the ball carrier and having the second guy in striping the ball,” Biegel said. “We do take away interception drills and I think as we continue to do that and continue to build confidence those turnovers will naturally come.”
The turnovers Wisconsin has created haven’t got to waste either. Usually getting a boost with good field position, the Badgers’ offense has turned five of those turnovers into touchdowns, including Figaro’s on an 18-play, 90-yard drive that iced the game.
“It gives us a lot of juice our defense does a great job of stopping teams on third down,” tailback Corey Clement said. “Just have to help them out when they help us out basically I see them as doing a great thing for us so when they get the ball back for us it is positive energy so why not score with that energy.”
While Andersen was pleased with the play Figaro made to begin the fourth quarter, he wasn’t pleased with how the play started with Swanson having tons of running room.
That has been an issue with the defense early on. Through four games, Wisconsin has given up 14 plays of 20-yards-or-more, 10 of which have come via the pass. Only six of those 14 plays, however, have resulted in a touchdown.
“I'm OK if a kid makes a big play,” Andersen said. “Do I like it? no, but hey, that's football. The wheel route down their sideline when it's a 10-point football game, that's inexcusable for all of us, and it all starts with me. The big plays do have me a little bit concerned...but we do not want to be known as a defense that gives us big plays.”
Biegel believes those plays will become less of a factor as Wisconsin continues to mature on defense.
“I think as the season goes on will tighten up on those plays,” Biegel said. “It’s a lack of communication but as the season goes on our defense will mature and continue to develop will step up and will prevent big plays.”
None of the big plays Saturday, however, came from freshman tailback %%MATCH_10%%. Entering the game 12th in the nation in rushing yards, Mack finished with only 34 yards on 10 carries.
“He was a big game plan all week,” said Biegel. “We knew USF was going to come in here and run the ball and pound it on the turf. That was big emphasis all week. Coach (Dave) Aranda put us in the right spot yet again and doing a phenomenal job. We collectively stepped up and did well against him.”