Wisconsin’s two senior linebackers knew its defense was good. The stats backed it up, boasting the nation’s top overall defense, third-best pass defense and fifth-best run defense. Problem was the recent schedule had meant Wisconsin was shutting down average opponents with inferior offenses, causing doubt in others about how good the unit really was.
“We hear all that stuff,” said Landisch. “That just fires us up because of the type of guys we are, a bunch of guys who have doubted their whole careers. When we hear that type of stuff, that’s right up our alley and it lights a fire under our butts.”
In front of a national audience, the fire burned bright. Trailing 17-3 early in the second quarter based off of poor execution by the offense and special teams, Wisconsin flipped the switch and got back to basics, holding Nebraska scoreless for 41 minutes, 18 seconds of game time, allowing Wisconsin offense to score 56 straight points in a 59-24 pummeling of No.11 Nebraska.
“The defense, after getting some bad field position, they fought the turnover scenarios, kept on battling through that, which was great to see, and then just basically shut them down,” head coach Gary Andersen said. “This team keeps growing and developing, and they made some nice plays.”
Those plays included winning the turnover battle, as Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) enjoyed its best turnover performance of the season after forcing four fumbles and one interception. That helped limit Nebraska – which averaged over 40 points and 490 yards per game – to 24 points and 180 yards.
“It’s just a great feeling,” junior linebacker Joe Schobert said. “Those turnovers have been especially big because we hadn’t gotten a lot of those so far this year. And those opportunities presented themselves today, so it was great overall team defense. Everybody was making plays the whole time.”
“I can’t say enough how we handled that adversity,” sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel added. “Being down 17-3, and to go out there and get those turnovers for our offense (to) put them in those situations, put them in the driver’s seat. I think that was the difference.”
The Badgers scored 28 points off the Cornhuskers’ turnovers and made running lanes hard to find for quarterback Tommy Armstrong and tailback Ameer Abdullah after halftime. Abdullah finished with 69 yards after gaining 61 in the first half. The country’s all-purpose yards leader, Abdullah finished with only 95 yards.
“We definitely feel like we’re one of the best defenses in the league,” Trotter said.
Armstrong – yet another dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the Big Ten – was shut down after giving Nebraska a 10-0 with a touchdown pass to Kenny Bell, who was wide open after a blown coverage.
The Badgers would allow a rushing touchdown to Armstrong in the second quarter off a read-option, but the Cornhuskers’ passing efficiency stopped. The self-proclaimed “Chevy Bad Boys”—nicknamed by Biegel that includes him, Landisch, Schobert and Trotter – held strong to their reads and lanes after sputtering at first.
Biegel notched five tackles and two for loss, Trotter had 12 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovered, Schobert had 11 tackles (two and a half tackles for loss) and a fumble recovery, and Landisch added 10 tackles.
With constant pressure from all angles, Armstrong looked flustered, finishing 6-for-18 with 62 yards and an interception, including completing just 1-of-10 in the first half.
“That was the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Biegel. “With the snow falling down there in the second half and the great crowd environment at Camp Randall and it was the Freedom Trophy game. I just couldn’t say enough about it, I’m extremely blessed by my team.”
Lowering its total defense average to 244.1 yards per game, it appears Wisconsin’s group of nobody’s is legitimate after all.
“We’re a bunch of two-star guys, a bunch of guys who may not be good individually, but when you put us together on a defense, we have so much camaraderie,” said Landisch. “We play so hard for each other. I know I can count on the guy next to me and that’s what team defense is all about.”