Badgers Backers Flex Their Muscle

With the defense back to full strength, Wisconsin linebackers set the tone during its 52-7 victory over Maryland, pressuring and frustrating the Terrapins' offense throughout.

MADISON – An extra week to prepare for Big Ten newcomer Maryland was a great thing for a Wisconsin linebacking corps starting to play some of the best football of the season.

Following defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s simple and aggressive game plan against a dual-threat quarterback with elusive receivers, Wisconsin’s defense delivered early and often during its 52-7 rout at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday.

Entering the game averaging 402.3 yards of offense and 35.1 points per game, Maryland to just 175 total yards on 57 plays (3.1 yards per play) and seven points, both season lows.

“If we could play like that every week, that would be wonderful,” said head coach Gary Andersen. “They just really executed at a very high level, I’m proud of them. That’s what we want to be. I think we were aggressive by nature. We were aggressive by play call, and when I say that, I mean by our base play calls. We stayed aggressive with them the whole game.”

The return of senior Marcus Trotter, who missed the last two game with a groin injury, was helpful for Wisconsin’s linebackers, who wreaked havoc in the backfield and in pursuit – totaling 6.5 of UW’s seven tackles for loss.

“The first thing, our game plan was very simple,” said Trotter, who finished with six total tackles (two for loss), a sack and a forced fumble. “With Coach Aranda it gets really complex sometimes, but he kept it simple because he wanted us to go out there and fly.”

That simplicity and attention to details while watching Maryland’s film reinforced that the linebackers and defensive backs needed to focus on their reads and responsibilities. Both groups did that successfully, which enabled the linebackers to run downhill to the ball and cut off running lanes.

Outside linebacker Joe Schobert finished with five total tackles, including two for loss, while inside linebacker Derek Landisch led the team with a team-high eight tackles, including two for loss. Schobert and Landisch executed the game plan by setting the edge and focusing on their responsibilities.

On Maryland’s first drive, the Terrapins sent a man in motion on a fourth-and-12 play. The play drew pressure from the linebackers, resulting in an incomplete pass and the end to a 10-play, 40-yard drive with a turnover on downs. That drive turned out to be Maryland’s best chance to score until the final minutes, setting the tone for the Badgers’ defense.

“Right when they did the motion we knew what the play was,” Trotter said. “When they ran it Landisch was right there to stop him…That’s just how Aranda helps us out so much – we recognize formations so well and we know what the play was.”

The stop for the Badgers started a streak of 12 straight drives of five plays or less, as Maryland didn’t cross midfield until the game’s final drive.

A dual-threat quarterback, Maryland’s C.J. Brown was a key on the option for Wisconsin, which had been a problem spot in the past, including in the fourth quarter two weeks ago against IllinoisAaron Bailey. After spending an extra week watching film and preparing, the linebackers knew where the ball would likely be going on all the read-option plays.

“It’s fun to play against a guy that confident (that he wants to keep the ball),” he said. “To tell you the truth, there were multiple times where I went straight to him because I was assuming he wanted to keep the ball. He’s a winner like that. He wants the ball, so to shut him down the way we did was helpful for us.”

Brown – the team’s leading rusher - struggled on the ground, which didn’t open up the passing game, as he finished with just 14 yards rushing and 129 passing on 29 attempts.

The pressure also stopped Brown from connecting with his No. 1 target, Stefon Diggs. Diggs caught just one pass – a touchdown at the end of the game.

The linebackers also had help from nose tackle Warren Herring – returning from a week one knee injury – plugging gaps and eating up blockers at the line of scrimmage.

“I didn’t even have an offensive lineman touch me for three quarters, so having us linebackers going out there and making plays it was easy to get guys juiced up,” Trotter said.

With the return of a healthy Trotter and Herring, the Badgers finally got to showcase the defense they were expecting to have throughout the entire season; a scary site for those coming up on the schedule.

“When we talked to the seniors before the year, we’ve always envisioned a defense like this; a defense with swagger, a defense that can shut opponents out,” said Trotter. “We’ve always envisioned this and it’s really great to see at this point in time.”

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