MADISON – For as good as Wisconsin's defense was a season ago, leading the country in giving up only 13.7 points per game, the defensive line felt their job was simply swallow up the double teams, creating unobstructed alley to the quarterback.
The group is out to change that in 2016.
“Getting pressure on the quarterback and creating turnover for our defense is a big factor,” sophomore nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. “It’ll help us in games.”
Of the 29 sacks delivered by the defense, only four came from the defensive line (Conor Sheehy 2, Alec James and Chikwe Obasih 1). With the exception of Arthur Goldberg, who had to quit football due to health reasons, the group from a year ago remains intact, giving them an extra year of experience and confidence.
“We’ve got a lot of depth out there,” James said. “I think everyone is finding their role right now. Spring ball is the best time to do it, but it’s a lot of fun. You have guys who have played a lot of ball, guys who haven’t played as much and we’re just learning together and meshing well because we return so many people.”
Beginning the final week of spring practices with its 13th workout on Tuesday morning, Wisconsin’s defense was active and persistent on the quarterbacks during team drills. During one segment, the defense registered four sacks, three of which came from three different defensive linemen (Billy Hirschfeld, Kraig Howe and Conor Sheehy)
James also registered one of the best defensive plays of the day, catching a fumble off the hands of Bart Houston – the ball appeared to slip out of his hands – and break free down the field.
“Those guys work their butts off,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “Those guys getting pressure are going to help us a lot. Honestly if they get pressure we have the easy job. I think overall as a defense, if we keep working, we can be special all around.”
Under the Quarterback Microscope
Although unofficially finishing the day 8-for-20 with two turnovers, Houston said he’s “maybe” taken 12 steps forward through 13 practices.
“Not every day is going to be good physically as I want it to,” Houston said. “I’ve got a lot better since day one and since last spring and since last fall.”
Houston said his biggest improvements since the start of camp is recognizing different defenses and understanding the basic installs. During the move-the-ball segment, Houston was able to deliver a steady drive with the first-team offense against the starting defense before the ball slipped from his hands and into James’ chest.
“You can always get better at everything,” Houston said.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook finished 13-for-22 and delivered the play of the day, throwing a perfect 50-yard bomb to receiver Jazz Peavy down the middle of the field. Peavy split the defense and finished off the 67-yard score.
From the Infirmary
Limited Tuesday – CB Titus Booker (right thigh), WR Krenwick Sanders (left thigh), OLB Jake Whalen (right thigh), WR Rob Wheelwright (right leg)
Out Tuesday – S D’Cota Dixon (left groin), OL Ben Hemer (head), WR Henry Houden (right thigh), RB Mark Saari (right hand), OL Logan Schmidt (left knee), TE Eric Steffes (right groin)
Out for Spring – QB Kare Lyles (left hip), DE Zander Neuville (right shoulder), TE Michael Rolfe (right knee), OL Dan Voltz (right knee)
Wisconsin completes 2018 schedule
Wisconsin will open the 2018 football season by hosting Western Kentucky at Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 1, completing a nonconference schedule that includes home games against New Mexico and BYU.
Western Kentucky, which plays in Conference USA, finished No. 24 in the final Associated Press top-25 poll after going 12-2 and winning the Miami Beach Bowl. The Hilltoppers have had a winning record every year since 2011. The two schools only meeting was a 24-6 Wisconsin win in Madison in 2001.
Wisconsin tried to schedule a neutral-site game for that date but was unable to get everything to fall in line. The Badgers have open the season playing a neutral site game the last three years, playing LSU in Houston, Alabama in Arlington, TX, and will play LSU in Green Ball this September.
Instead of the Hilltoppers being a one-and-done opponent, the two schools also agreed to a home-and-home series in basketball as part of the contract. The teams will meet at the Kohl Center on Dec. 17, 2017 and at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky., on Dec. 12, 2018.
Western Kentucky was 18-16 last season and were 20-12 in 2014-15 under head coach Ray Harper. Rick Stansbury takes over as head coach in 2016-17. The Hilltoppers last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
Like football, Wisconsin basketball won the only meeting against Western Kentucky, a 73-62 victory in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1989.
Extra Points: Working with the ones Tuesday, Natrell Jamerson registered an interception off Houston in one-on-one coverage along the sideline. The pass appeared to be underthrown … T.J. Edwards and Jack Cichy worked as the starting inside linebackers and Arrington Farrar and Joe Ferguson worked as the starting safeties … Wisconsin’s final practice prior to Saturday’s spring game will be Thursday morning.