If there is a silver lining from last week's 23-5 loss to UNLV it is that Wisconsin's defense only gave up 187 yards total offense after yielding 534 the previous week to Akron. Then again, there is still room for improvement.
"I thought we did a lot of good things," defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "Statistically we did well, but there were still some things we definitely have to correct, that we didn't play as well as we could have. We have got to make those plays in the red zone—a third down play."
UNLV scored two offensive touchdowns against the Badgers, one a third-and-goal from the six, the other a second-and-goal from the eight. Each time cornerback Levonne Rowan was in good position, but Rebel receiver Earvin Johnson made a good play on the ball.
"I thought that Rowan just had to finish some things," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "There were two touchdowns, which were pretty good receptions. He was contending them. He just didn't quite finish."
"Turnovers, if they happen, our job defensively is to hold them to a field goal," Cosgrove said. "We did that one time—one out of three. That is not good enough and when you get down to the red zone, not that you shouldn't always play with urgency, but our kids have got to know, hey, we have got to keep them out of the end zone."
With the Big Ten season just around the corner it is vitally important that the defense is ready. North Carolina's offense will provide a measuring stick for just how far the unit has come.
The Tar Heels may be 0-2 and they were shutout by a very good Florida State team, but UNC has plenty of talent offensively. With junior quarterback Darian Durant leading the way, North Carolina is averaging 400 yards per game.
"(Durant) reminds me of a Randle El," Alvarez said, referring to former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El. "He doesn't use quite as much option but he still runs the ball and plays like an Randle El."
A hefty compliment, but Durant is quite a player. He has started just 12 games and played in 23 during his career, but Durant already has thrown for 4,427 yards and 37 touchdown, third and first, respectively, on North Carolina's career list.
"Their quarterback is a really good passer, he has got a cannon, and he does what he has to do to make a play," Wisconsin strong safety Ryan Aiello said. "He will spin around, throw the ball all crazy, you know, but he will get it to the guys—and he can scramble. So we really have to stay on our guys when he is scrambling around."
Indeed, a key to containing North Carolina's offense is keeping Durant, who leads the team with 90 rushing yards and has the Heels only rushing touchdown, under wraps. This task is far easier said than done, especially considering that, for the second consecutive week, the Badgers depleted front four has to contend with a very good offensive line. The Tar Heels quintet, which returns intact from last season, has yielded just one sack in two games this year, though they did allow 46 last season.
Though Durant is certainly a threat once he is out of the pocket, he is an ever bigger threat with his arm. So far this season Durant has thrown for 461 yards and four touchdowns. The Tar Heels signal-caller is also the most accurate passer (.619 completion percentage) in school history and he has a bevy of talented receivers at his disposal.
The headliner is Jarwarski Pollock, a 5-8, 170-pound mighty-mite with excellent receiving skills. Pollack has 18 catches for 166 yards and one touchdown this season.
"He is little guy but he is their best receiver," Aiello said. "He is really quick, he has good hands. He gets open and that is their big play guy. We have to focus on him and play well against him."
The Tar Heels, however, will likely be without the services of Bobby Blizzard, one of the better tight ends in the nation. Blizzard has been battling a viral illness and has caught just three passes this season.
Still, Durant and the Tar Heels athleticism will pose a challenge to the Badgers defense.
"Everyone is going to have to really focus this week," Aiello said. "We can't come out like we did the last couple weeks. We have to come out with a jump and just get on them. We have to play our best game this week."