UW defense steps up at crucial time

Badgers struggle to stop Bowling Green's potent offense, but have enough success in the second half to allow their offense to win shootout

MADISON — Forget for a moment that Bowling Green scored 35 points in the first half of a college football game here Saturday.

The crucial numbers for the University of Wisconsin defense were 0-for-5, one yard, two sacks, two pass breakups and two dropped passes — the results of Bowling Green's first two drives of the second half.

BG quarterback Omar Jacobs completed his first eight passes at Camp Randall Stadium and engineered touchdown drives on the Falcons' first three possessions. At halftime, he had completed 20 of 29 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

"Jacobs lives up to his billing," Alvarez said. "He's exceptional. A lot of poise… But I was very proud of our guys, how they competed. They did not lose their composure."

Wisconsin's 35-point second quarter left the game tied and allowed the Badgers' defense a second chance.

They took advantage, holding the Falcons to one yard on 10 plays on their first two drives after halftime. UW's defensive backs were often caught trailing the play in the first half, but Jacobs' first two passes of the second half were broken up by free safety Zach Hampton and cornerback Brett Bell, respectively.

BG picked up a first down on a punt fake, but on second and third down defensive tackle Nick Hayden and middle linebacker Mark Zalewski sacked Jacobs, bringing up fourth-and-29. UW finished with four sacks, more than any opponent had against BG last season.

Jacobs was 0-for-3 on BG's next drive, though two of the passes were dropped by normally sure-handed receivers Corey Partridge and Charles Sharon.

Meanwhile, UW had built a 56-35 lead, having scored touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half.

UW's defense had plenty of blemishes. Receiver Steve Sanders' 63-yard second-quarter touchdown reception, for instance, included 44 yards after the catch, when two UW defensive backs collided as they tried to converge in pursuit.

Defensive back Roderick Rogers was called for pass interference twice on a touchdown drive that tied the game at 28-28. And BG needed just 33 seconds to move 83 yards for a score just before the first half ended.

UW had several near misses in the second half, including a Sharon dropped pass deep down the right sideline that would have resulted in a touchdown, when BG trailed 56-42.

The Badgers had prepped for BG's spread offense since last spring, but the Falcons still pulled out some new tricks that caught UW with its guard down.

"They didn't really run many of the same routes (we prepared for)," cornerback Levonne Rowan said.

UW was not expecting BG to feature a two-back, three-receiver set, but that was exactly what the Falcons did on their first four plays from scrimmage. BG had success out of the formation but after top tailback P.J. Pope sprained both of his ankles while blocking for a kick return with 5:23 left in the second quarter, the Falcons effectively scrapped it, except when putting a blocking back in with No. 2 back B.J. Lane.

The Badgers tried to match personnel with the Falcons throughout the game, but BG's frequent use of a no-huddle offense made that difficult.

UW defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said the Badgers used at least five personnel packages defensively and he estimated that they were in some variation of nickel for about 85 percent of the game.

UW utilized a five defensive back package in several ways. Rogers, who typically will be UW's starting free safety, spent most of the first half playing as a nickel cornerback, with Hampton stepping in at free safety. Rogers also played safety alongside Hampton or regular strong safety Johnny White.

White and reserve strong safety Joe Stellmacher at times played a quasi outside linebacker in a nickel set that looked much like a base "43". And UW also used a 3-3-5 scheme, with their base linebackers lining up behind three defensive linemen.

Bell, who had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in January, missed a couple of series late in the game. But he looked fine as he walked off the field afterwards, and said that, other than some expected swelling, his knee had held up well.

In Bell's absence, redshirt freshman Allen Langford stepped in at corner. Langford played nickel often in the second half, with Rogers back at safety.

Bielema was far from pleased with his defense's first-half performance, but he was happy with how it finished, stuffing Jacobs and Lane on successive runs at the UW 1.

"They had that nice little stand at the end," Bielema said. "That's our house. Nobody's coming in our house if we don't let them in."

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