Before Wisconsin's 24-12 victory over Northwestern Saturday, defensive coordinator Bret Bielema came into the locker room to pump up the Badgers.
"He came in and knocked over the trashcans; he was screaming and cussing … this is the game, so when your coach's coming in screaming, of course you're going to go out there and get pumped. He's crazy," junior will linebacker Dontez Sanders laughed.
So what does Bielema have to say?
"I'd rather not comment," he smiled. "I think the thing I was concerned about … was no letdown … I wanted those guys to understand was I was standing out there on the 50-yard line when they came out and they were pretty sure and pretty confident in their own beliefs, talking about Northwestern, what they're going to do."
While Bielema may underplay his pre-game talk, what is indisputable is that despite being bruised and battered, the Wisconsin defense managed to hold the Wildcats off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter, preserving an important victory and improving the Badgers' record to 8-0 (5-0 in the Big Ten).
Playing without three of their defensive starters, including two of the Badgers' dominating front four, Wisconsin dug deep to hold speedy senior running back Nick Herron and junior quarterback Brett Basanez to minimum yardage. With senior ends Erasmus James and Jonathan Welsh both out with injuries sustained last weekend against Purdue, the d-line looked a lot younger—not to mention smaller. Without James and Welsh, Wisconsin played with 37 fewer pounds on the line with sophomore Joe Monty and freshman Jamal Cooper in their place. Nonetheless, Cooper said he was given minimal advice to fill the big shoes of Welsh.
"They had confidence in me; they trusted me, so there weren't too many words," Cooper said.
Size and experience did play a factor for the Badgers' defense, which came into this game as the top-rated unit in the country. Both Cooper and Monty were seeing their first action as starters, but despite lacking the dominant presence James and Welsh bring to the team, were lauded by teammates, in particular senior linemate Jason Jefferson.
"They stepped up big for us today," Jefferson said of Cooper and Monty, who had six tackles between the two of them. "It's expected of them; if one guy goes down, things don't change around here. So they came in here and did a pretty good job."
It was the first game this season the Badgers allowed any one player to rush for over 100 yards, but Wisconsin managed to keep Basanez, who completed just 16 of 37 passes, from finding any rhythm.
Once again UW came extremely close to the much-desire shutout, but fell short. After going up 24-0 at the end of the third, Basanez led an extended drive that lasted just under six minutes for 65 yards. The possibility of a shutout increased when the Northwestern field goal was wide left and the Badgers regained the ball on their own 20-yard line. However, the offense was unable to provide much relief time for the tired defense and went three and out.
On the ensuing Wildcat drive, Basanez drove his team quickly down the field before finding Mark Philmore in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown. An onside kick kept the offense off the field, and the Badger defense, which had previously allowed an average of eight points per game, gave up a second touchdown.
"Our mentality is to make each team earn everything," senior safety Jim Leonhard said. "In the first half I think you saw that. In the second half, (Northwestern) made some plays on some busted covers. We're just trying to make everyone earn their way down the field, and if they do it, than they're doing a good job."
The bye week could not come at a better time for the beleaguered Badgers. With a week off before battling Minnesota for Paul Bunyan's axe, Wisconsin looks to use the time to get the line healthy in preparation for the Gophers' lauded running game. For now, the Badgers hope to continue with the mantra 1 and 0, even without a game next week.
"One and 0 off the field, in school work," Sanders said. "Just get the school work done, and don't get into any stupid trouble."
Defense gets the message
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