Centering the Ball with Derek Engler

Five questions with former Badger offensive lineman Derek Engler. We may be running out of things to say about the Wisconsin defense. Also, he breaks down the offensive line performance and begins talk of the Fighting Zookers coming to town.

1) Let's be honest, is the defense really THIS good?

Anytime you hold the nation's fourth ranked offense to 286 yards, 185 below their average in their home stadium, you are pretty darn good. The Purdue Boilermakers have always been able to put points on the board and move the ball at will against opposing defenses. The Badgers did not even let the Purdue offense put up 10 points, the first time that has happened since a loss to Michigan on Oct. 25, 2003. This defense is one of the best that has ever played in Camp Randall and they are showing us that week in, week out.

They play with confidence and a tenacity that crushes the will of an offense. I can tell you as a former offensive lineman, there is nothing more demoralizing than watching 11 guys on defense screaming towards the ball and then doing it again and again. The Badgers have more speed in the second level with our linebacking core than there ever was during the Alvarez era. Mark Zalewski is a ball hawk and is the field general in the middle. Levy and Casillas can stick on wide receivers and cover any running back out of the backfield. We can stuff the run with our four horsemen up front. The linebackers are able to clean up after Hayden and Chapman constantly take up two blockers. Matt Shaughnessy and Joe Monty are very good disciplined ends and you can always count on them never losing contain. The Badgers secondary has young athletic corners that are getting better every week. Jack Ikegwuonu will be one of the best corners in the country next year. Allen Langford has shown that he makes things happen with his athletic ability and the big play. Roderick Rogers and Joe Stellmacher secure the back end constantly putting them in the right position to defend the pass and providing a strong presence when they see run and get downfield hard to help tackle the running back.

2) The Badgers have held their last four opponents to 22 points - combined.

One thing I have noticed is that the Badgers D has impeccable fundamentals. The pass rushers stay in their lanes and the defensive ends do not lose contain against the run. The linebackers do not over pursue and they are in the gap they are suppose to be in or they drop into the correct zone in coverage. Everybody constantly has their play side arm and leg free forcing the offensive player back towards the grain and pursuit of the defense. The corners lock up on their inside breast of the receiver and use their speed and athletic ability to stick with them on every move. They do not give up any YAC (yards after catch). On any quick passes to the flat they break down and then burst with speed to wrap the receiver up and make the tackle for a short gain. In the past the Badgers have had secondaries that gave enough room for receivers to gain 8-10 yards a pop on any quick protection three step drops. With the speed and athletic ability we now have in the secondary along with veteran and smart safeties, our corners are able to play them tighter and man up with confidence. In the past it seemed the secondary was more on the hope system and maintained the "bend but don't break" philosophy. Just don't give up the big play was our motto in the backend. Now it is to suffocate and make them work for every passing yard. In my opinion the Badgers have one of the top five secondaries in the country. When is the last time we said that in cheese land?

3) Do you think the Badgers will look past Illinois and think about Penn State already?

I do not think the Badgers have looked past anybody this year. The players have truly bought into Coach Bielema's "one game season" every week and with the youth on this team it was critical for the players to believe that the goal every week is to be 1-0. Bielema and his staff have been able to dismiss all "inexperience" excuses by channeling the excitement of playing the game of football and reminding his young team that it is all about "enjoying the day" on Saturdays. Coach Bielema shakes all his players' hands on game day and tells them to "enjoy this day". He has told his squad that the long hours that he and his staff put in during the week at the offices along with quality high tempo practices will put them in the best position to have success. The Badgers have been able to play with high energy at the same time maintaining intense focus. That is when you know you are having fun.

4) As a former lineman, you have got to be impressed with the performance by the big guys up front.

I was particularly hard on the offensive line after the Michigan game. I understand that the Wolverines defense is very good but our o-line has practiced against a very good defense day in and day out since August. The performance in the big house was not good enough and as I wrote for Badger Nation after that game, as a unit they all took that loss personally and they will come out fighting and stronger than ever. Since that second half at Ann Arbor, Stocco has been able to count to 7 Mississippi at times before releasing the ball. P.J. Hill is one of the top running backs in the country and is on his way to a possible 2000 yard season. I am proud of the way the offensive line has performed since the Michigan loss. They understand that they have to face a couple of defensive units that will test them much more then their last four opponents. Coach Palcic has done a great job getting his guys to perform as one which is always the ultimate challenge as an offensive line. Cohesion is a necessity and the Badgers had some new faces up front this year along with a new coach and they have answered the bell by getting after it up front every Saturday and maintaining a long tradition of having success running the football at the University of Wisconsin.

5) Will the dual threat ability of Juice Williams catch the defense off guard, or will the Badgers settle in quickly?

I am sure our coaching staff will have something planned for Williams. I do not think that they will completely design their defensive game plan around stopping one player. They will stick with what has put them as one of the top defenses in the country regardless of what type of offensive personnel they face on Saturday. Williams is in for an eye-opener because he has yet to face the likes of a relentless, swarming Badger defense.


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