Wisconsin's Defense Rises to the Challenge

Faced with an up-tempo, spread challenge, Wisconsin's defense rose to the challenge with another stifling performance in the win over Troy.

MADISON - Wisconsin’s defense knew the challenge it face heading into Saturday’s match-up against Troy. The Trojans, under first-year head coach Neal Brown, run an up-tempo spread offense that averaged over 339 yards and 32 points per game in their first two contests; doing all this despite holding the ball for under 20 minutes on average each contest.

The end result shows, as No.24 Wisconsin held Troy to 255 total yards in a 28-3 victory at Camp Randall Saturday, the second straight game the Badgers held a nonconference opponent out of the end zone.

“We knew what to expect,” said junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton. “We prepared for it … I think we overall did a good job. Of course, there’s some things we can work on -- getting the calls out a little bit faster, stuff like that. That’ll be pieced together. We’ll work on that.”

Since the 35-17 loss to Alabama in the opener, a night where Wisconsin gave up 502 total yards, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s squad has risen up to stifle their adversaries.

The defense only allowed 157 total yards and forced three interceptions in its 58-0 win against Miami University a week earlier. On Saturday, the Badgers sacked sophomore quarterback Brandon Silvers three times, registered seven tackles for loss and allowed a long play of only 23 yards, taking the punch and rhythm out of its pace-driven schemes.

“We’ve been working on staying in our gaps, playing technique-sound football,” senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert said. “I think the last two weeks being able to play the run as well as we have, it’s shown that practice has paid off in the game. That’s one of our first goals is to stop the run. We work on that every week in practice, and it’s paid off.”

It wasn’t so easy, however. Troy’s offense pushed down the field and kept the game close until the third quarter. Five of the Trojans’ drives were at least nine plays, but getting within 15 yards of Wisconsin’s end zone just once on the afternoon. Silvers delivered the ball quickly with short passes that picked apart the Badgers’ defense.

The Badgers also dealt with two ejections of players critical to their “peso” 2-4-5 nickel subpackage, losing inside linebacker Leon Jacobs in the first quarter and cornerback Derrick Tindal in the third quarter because of targeting violations. It’s part of the reason UW’s third-down defense, a typical stronghold for Aranda’s defense, fell short of expectations in the first half with Troy going 4-for-8.

The Badgers bent but didn’t break, however.

“You've got to stay with it,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “You've got to be precise. You've got to tackle it. Some of the plays, bigger plays, we didn't tackle it. But I thought they did a nice job of that, getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand and I think that's what they want you to do is get frustrated with it.

“You've got to do your job, and then there's going to be times in that game where you're going to be tested and you've got to rise up to those. But I felt they did a pretty good job overall. Go back to what I like about the group; they keep their poise.”

Silvers ended his day 23-of-34 for 174 yards and completed passes to six different receivers but was held to about five yards per attempt. Senior running back Brandon Burks was held to only 66 yards and 3.3 yards per carry. Troy finished with 88 yards on 2.5 yards per attempt.

“I thought they did a great job of keeping us off-paced in the game when they were doing their constraint throws, their runs, fast-paced stuff,” Schobert said. “On the other hand, we did a great job of stepping up when it counted -- when it mattered -- to limit them to no touchdowns, field goal attempts, and get some turnovers and make the quarterback make some rush decisions and throw some incompletions.”

The defense forced only one turnover but was a key stop in the third quarter that instantly swung momentum to Wisconsin’s side. Troy was in midst of a 10-play, 56-yard drive on the Badgers’ 25-yard line when Schobert handily beat junior left tackle Antonio Garcia off the snap and stripped Silvers. Senior safety Michael Caputo recovered the ball and Wisconsin regained possession and momentum.

It was the fourth sack of the season for Schobert, a former walk-on who finished the afternoon with six tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, and couldn’t have come at more of an opportune time. Seven plays later, senior Tanner McEvoy took the snap in a wildcat formation and ran 32 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead. Troy wouldn’t threaten after that.

“It’s huge, something that we can continue to keep building off of,” Shelton. “That’s the goal, obviously, not to let the offense score points, so anytime you do that it’s a momentum thing. You just hope to continue to build and push forward and let that carry over for next week.”

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