Centering the Ball with Derek Engler

Not many people would have predicted the outcome of Saturday's battle for the Axe, Derek Engler included. He talks about the dominating performance and also discusses the upcoming matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers as we "Center the Ball" for week eight.

1) Did you expect this sort of victory, especially in a rivalry game?

I expected the Badgers to come out a victor by at least 10 points but I did not envision the Badgers completely shutting them down. Under the Alvarez era the Badgers never put together a string of blowouts like these past three Big 10 games. Either our competition has been pretty bad or we are pretty darn good. I think it is more the latter especially after Indiana knocks off Iowa and the Gophers had the win against Penn St. taken from them by the officials. I was curious to see how the Gophers would react to the letdown of the Penn St. and then having to come on the road to Camp Randall where Coach Mason is 0-5. Brett Bielema and a tough and focused Badger football team answered that question.

The Gophers tried to come out fighting in the 1st quarter gaining 124 yards fore than half of what they would accumulate for the entire game but still trailed 14-3. Jason Chapman took the wind right out of their sail when he stripped Amir Pinnix of the ball with Mark Zalewski around his legs, the ball popped out and Jack Ikegwuonu scooped it up and went on 50 yards for the score. It is plays like this and fielding an opening onside kick that really can swing the pendulum of momentum in a football game. Coach Bielema and his staff have done a great job getting his kids ready to start fast right from kickoff and that is huge factor. The offense answered the bell after the fumble recovery for a TD by the D with a 10 play, 5 minute, 87 yard drive(78 rushing yds from Hill) capped off by a 5yd TD run by Hill. It does not get any better than this. The nails are already starting to be hammered at this point. All the momentum in the first quarter was in our favor despite a good offensive performance by the Gophers in that quarter, due to the big play on defense and that punishing opening drive by the offense.

2) Wisconsin's defense gave up 124 in the first quarter - just 76 after that. Are we running out of superlatives here?

I take a similar position to my first response. The Gophers were trailing 14-3 after the 1st qtr but it might as well been 28-3 because all momentum was pointing towards the Badgers. Once we made some adjustments we shut them down completely on Defense. Our pass defense has to be one on the top units in the country. Besides Langford giving up a couple to Manningham in the Michigan game they have dominated everybody else that they have faced year to date.

Logan Payne was in the top three in the Big 10 in catches and yards. He finished with two catches for six yards. The thing that impresses me is the way our secondary sizes a receiver up after the catch, breaks down under control with playside arm and leg free and then wraps him up with no yards after catch. The YAC statistic is a stat that many fans do not realize or pay attention to but it is very crucial especially to defensive backs. I would guess that there were less then 10 yds in the YAC category on Saturday. Our guys in the back end were getting after it! They held the Gophers passing game under 100yds for the game when they were averaging 225yds a game. The front seven continues to dominate after they held the Gophers rushing attack to 106 yards which more then made up for the 411 yards the Gophers tallied up on the ground in the Metrodome last year. Jason Chapman had a big day with a forced fumble and two sacks. He crowds the ball at the line of scrimmage and gets off the ball very, very quick to make some plays in the backfield.

3) Does the emergence of Travis Beckum, and his ability to stretch the field with speed, open up an already above average Badger offense?

The Gophers definitely went into the tank before the half after Stocco moved the ball down the field on two scoring drives. I had to look twice on the play-action fake he threw to Andy Crooks. I thought it was Peyton Manning for a second. Small details like carrying out a play-fake like Stocco did on that touchdown pass, not forcing the ball and having great awareness are the things that are making him one of the elite quarterbacks in the Big 10 and the country. The Badgers offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst, has done a great job gameplanning opponents and coming up with a strategy that best fits our personnel. Coach Chryst knows that we need to run the ball effectively at Wisconsin in order to have any success on offense. Our offensive line has done a great job moving people up front creating lanes for P.J. Hill and then protecting #7 when it is time to throw the ball. Our running game has completely opened up our passing attack and the last three games are evidence of that. Opposing defenses now have to respect our passing attack or if we catch them cheating the safeties up as they did in the Indiana game we will go over the top. Coach Chryst knows that we have a couple of good tight ends in Crooks and Beckum. He also understands that Travis Beckum has a special talent and can do some things to defenses that other tight ends in this league might not be able to do. He has great speed.

Speed at this position has become a very lethal attribute. The NFL has reinvented the tight end position for the past 6-8 years. Gonzalez, Gates, Shockey, Crumpler, Heap, Winslow, V. Davis, etc. are the new breed of tight ends. They can stretch defenses with their speed by outrunning linebackers and then when defensive backs try to defend them they can out 'physical' them or overpower them. The tight end position is a very important position in the game of football today and can impact an offense more than ever. Travis Beckum has showed signs of what he can do to a defense with his speed. Nobody has stopped the skinny post with him that the Badgers have had so much success with over the middle. Beckum had a great game and is showing that he is going to keep getting better as the season progresses which is good news for the Badgers. As long as we continue to have success in the running game, setting up the pass and then protect # 7, Beckum is going to be a nightmare for defenders to cover in the open field. The scary thing that he is going to physically mature in the years to come in one of the top strength and conditioning programs in the country.

4) The Badgers are now at 6-1, and top 20 in the nation. Is this where you expected this team to be at this point in the season?

This is exactly where I thought the Badgers would be at this point in the season. Their schedule is favorable and they are taking advantage of it. I think the national media continues to overlook the Badgers as far as rankings go but as a young team we would not want it any other way. Inexperience plays better as the underdog and I hope we continue to get a lack of recognintion all the way to winning out the season, pounding the crap out of Iowa and then onto a BCS game.

5) Looking forward to Purdue, what can we look for in this game.

Purdue has always been a tough place for the Badgers to play. It is a quick passing game with the spread offense. Curtis Painter is starting to play better at the QB position and the Boilermakers have a very good WR in Dorien Bryant. The Badgers top rated secondary will have their work cut out for them once again as they try to shut down the Purdue passing attack. I think the keys to this game is going to be controlling the ball and have the time of possession in our favor as it was against the Gophers. This means keeping our Defense off the field and moving the chains by running the ball. This will open up the passing game as it has the past three games. We also need to win the turnover margin more then ever on the road. I believe this game will not be a cakewalk like the prior three have been for the Badgers. They are going to have to overcome some adversity in this game to come out with a victory.

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