"We have to respond," Wisconsin defensive backs coach Ron Lee said. "And we have to respond from the opening series. They are going to catch some balls. We just can't allow them to catch the ball behind us. And that's going to start with great communication before the snap."
Does UW want to bend but not break defensively?
In a word: no.
"Stop them at all costs," Lee said.
"Your bend but you don't break can be 15 yards," he said. "That's too much… Every defense has a weakness and a strength. So you've got to understand what the weakness of the defense is and then you rise to that."
Bowling Green junior quarterback Omar Jacobs completed two thirds of his passes last year on his way to throwing for more than 4,000 yards. Only twice was his single-game completion percentage lower than 60 percent: a 24 of 41 (58.5 percent) performance against Oklahoma and a 26 of 44 (59 percent) outing against Memphis, when he threw for five touchdowns.
So the Badgers do not expect to keep Jacobs from completing passes. The key is to keep his receivers from gaining yards after the catch, and to force them to dink-and-dunk their way down the field, instead of making big plays.
"You can't cover the whole field," Lee said.
But you can coerce an offense into accepting a five-yard route, for instance, and then rally to the ball.
"As a coach we've got to teach the game to the players for them to understand maybe the flat is the weakness in this defense," Lee said. "But they throw it to the flat, you got to make them pay when they catch it.
"You give them a 15-yard pass, that shouldn't be a part of the weakness of the defense. That's a mental mistake."
Lee can handle Jacobs putting some numbers on the stat sheet, as long as UW comes away with a win.
"If he has his yards, he has his yards," he said. "But letters are more important than numbers. We have our mind set out to stop him. He's going to complete some passes. You just can't give him the big play."
Who is the nickel?
Wisconsin used several defensive backfield combinations in fall training camp, and Lee was not about to tip his hand this week. Not even a little bit. The projected starters in the secondary, from observations during fall training camp and UW's official depth chart, are senior corners Brett Bell and Levonne Rowan and junior safeties Johnny White and Roderick Rogers.
Facing Bowling Green's multiple-receiver offense, however, the Badgers will likely have a fifth defensive back on the field often Saturday.
So who might UW use as its nickel back? Lee gave four names as possibilities: corners Jack Ikegwuonu, Allen Langford and Ben Strickland and Rogers. If Rogers plays nickel back, Lee acknowledged, Zach Hampton would come in to play free safety.
Strickland (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) came to UW as a walk-on two years ago but earned a scholarship this fall.
"Strickland, he's not your average corner," Lee said. "He's not 6-foot, he (does not) run a 4.4 (40-yard dash), but he makes plays. And that's all that matters. What you look for is the results and he's going (to) give those results. I know what his weaknesses are and we're working on that. He just needs to continue to work like he has been."
Lee said that his two true freshman strong safeties, Jonathan Casillas and Aubrey Pleasant, continue to work in with the depth, along with taking reps with the scout-team defense. Pleasant and Casillas are listed as co-third-team strong safeties on UW's official depth chart.
Casillas missed most of fall camp while he recovered from a broken right foot, but he began to work his way back last week and was able to take part in regular practices this week.
"I'd say he has some ability," Lee said. "He's going to be a really good player here. Unfortunately he missed some of camp but he's coming on lately…. He's catching my eye every time I put him in for anything."
During training camp, defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said that the Badgers wanted to try out their recruits at the highest skill level position they could handle. Thus, Casillas ended up at strong safety rather than outside linebacker, Prince Moody is playing corner instead of safety and Jarmal Ruffin, who could have played several positions, is at free safety. Ruffin actually played defensive end in high school.
"Jarmal, he can handle (free safety)," Lee said. "He's a very intelligent player."
But Lee said, Ruffin "has to become accustomed to moving backwards."