Choose your defense

Badger defense may rely on nickel and dime versus Purdue's aerial attack

Generously listed at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, nickel cornerback Chuckie Cowans could have a big role in the outcome of Saturday's matchup between undefeated and No. 10 Wisconsin (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) and No. 5 Purdue (5-0, 2-0).

Cowans, a fifth-year senior, has toiled in relative obscurity in his time at Wisconsin, mostly as a backup corner and special teams player.

That could change considerably Saturday evening. To put it mildly, Purdue likes to throw the ball. Led by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Kyle Orton and receiver Taylor Stubblefield, the Boilermakers lead the Big Ten and are second nationally in passing offense (351.2 yards per game).

Last season, Purdue waltzed into Camp Randall Stadium and fired away. Orton completed his first 15 passes on his way to a 38-for-55, 411-yard performance in a 26-23 Boilermaker win.

"I really don't know what happened," UW corner Scott Starks said of that contest. "That ball was flying around every where. It seemed like every play it was just zip, zip, zip."

The Boilermakers' base formation requires three receivers but they will often employ four or five.

"I really enjoy watching Purdue because as a football coach you like to see things that people execute well," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "I love any offense that runs well."

Of course, what Bielema enjoys more is out-playing great offenses. For that to occur Saturday, the Badgers will rely on players like Cowans and dime corner Levonne Rowan perhaps more often than at any other time this season.

"This is the time where it is just DBs against receivers," Cowans said. "It is our game against theirs. We are pretty comfortable with that."

Cowans started four of Wisconsin's last five games a year ago after injuries ravaged the secondary. In far and away his most extensive playing time of his career, he finished the season with 24 tackles and five pass breakups. He has eight tackles this season.

"Old Man Chuck, he's doing well," defensive backs coach Ron Lee said. "We said he was here when they first built the stadium."

Cowans, 22, has not exactly been on campus that long, but he is the elder statesman among Wisconsin's cornerback corps.

"I know the game a lot better than I did a couple years ago," he said. "I'm able to see things differently. Some plays I'm able to read faster."

More often than not this season, however, Wisconsin has stayed in its base defense versus spread offenses, choosing to leave outside linebackers Dontez Sanders and Mark Zalewski in the game instead of adding defensive backs.

"I know my role and whenever my number is called I'm going to play the best I can for that role," Cowans said.

Choosing between base, nickel and dime personnel, Bielema said, is a product of what he hopes to accomplish versus what he expects Purdue to attempt to achieve.

"That's why I don't think a defense can ever dictate the flow of a game," he said. "You have to react to what they deal you. You can kind of control it. They may not want to do certain things based off of what you do but bottom line is the offense can line up and do whatever they want to on any given snap.

"That's the part of playing defense that you got to harp into your guys is ‘no matter what they throw at you, our defense has the answer.' You've just got to be able to execute."

Particularly against a team like Purdue.

"I don't think that there's a lot of things that Purdue throws at you that are new every week," Bielema said. "I think they do what they do and they out-execute the people that they are going against."

No matter how many receivers the Boilermakers put on the field, Bielema said, the way the 11 pieces of the defense fit together does not change.

"No matter what they do your philosophy has got to stay the same," he said.

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