For a glimpse at Wisconsin's defensive mentality, look closely at the end of the third quarter of the Badgers' 16-3 win over Penn State Saturday.
Wisconsin's defense had dominated until a 12-play, 74-yard Nittany Lion march after UW took a 16-0 lead on Mike Allen's third field goal. A 24-yard Tony Hunt run set up first-and-goal at the five but Penn State went backwards from there: Jim Leonhard broke up a pass on first down, Hunt was stuffed after a one-yard gain on second down and driven back for a loss of two on third down. The Nittany Lions then settled for a 23-yard field goal. It was three points Wisconsin was not happy to allow.
"I thought they really fought hard to keep them out of the end zone," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "They were serious about blocking that field goal. They were disappointed when he kicked it."
The Badgers' defense was fired up on the goal line stand, fired up trying to block the field goal and fired up throughout the fourth quarter, giving Penn State absolutely nothing to work with while the game was still, in theory, within reach. The Nittany Lions total offensive production on four fourth-quarter drives: 13 plays, negative 17 yards and not a single first down.
"I think that series did not set well with us," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They are playing with an attitude that I really want to see."
All told the Badgers gave up just 157 total yards (70 rushing, 87 passing) and nine first downs. They have given up only 19 points (one touchdown and four field goals) all season and never more than seven points in a game.
Say what you will about a Penn State team that was down to its third-string quarterback by the end of the first quarter, and three non-conference opponents that were less than offensive powerhouses, but Wisconsin's defense has, quite simply, put on a show.
Wisconsin is No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and No. 2 in total defense (190 yards allowed per game). The Badgers have not held an opponent to seven or fewer points in four straight games since 1951.
Saturday, Wisconsin's defense and special teams yet again bailed out an offense on the verge of implosion. The Badgers managed negative 14 yards on their first three possessions and just 92 by halftime. If not for Matt Bernstein's Yeoman's performance thereafter, UW may have gained even fewer yards than Penn State.
The Badgers' defense, though, just keeps improving and adapting. Since Central Florida converted 8 of 17 third- and fourth-down conversions in week one, Wisconsin's opponents are 4-for-39. Penn State was 1-for-14.
Wisconsin rarely blitzed or used a nickel defense in its first two games and picked its spots last week at Arizona. Saturday, the Badgers blitzed nearly every time Penn State employed a one-back set, frequently disrupting plays.
"That was just something that we really thought we could take advantage of based off of some of the things they had given us on pre-snap keys," Bielema said.
As throughout the season, the Badgers' defense was relentless and asserted itself with a number of crunching hits, including the vicious blows Erasmus James delivered that knocked quarterbacks Zack Mills and Michael Robinson out of the game.
"We always talk about it in terms of a body punch," Bielema said. "We just want to keep getting shots on (the quarterback) and eventually that is going to wear through. This stuff shows up on film…. Other quarterbacks will see those same type of things."
Wisconsin's ferocious performance added another element Saturday, causing three turnovers after creating just two in the first three games. The thefts made up for three Badger turnovers, including two fourth-quarter interceptions.
"We've got to correct some things on offense because we're going to find some more potent offenses down the road," Alvarez said. "We're going to have to get straightened out.
Yes, Wisconsin's offense cannot continue to play miserably and expect to continue winning. Then again…..
"If we don't give up any points there is not a way the other team can win," linebacker Dontez Sanders said last week. "They can just go into over time and keep on going."
Sanders' scenario would not exactly make for riveting entertainment. The defense's attitude, though, could lead the Badgers to Pasadena if it receives a little help from its friends.
Defense's attitude setting tone for Wisconsin
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