Defense Resharpens its skills

After allowing touchdowns on both of Washington State's opening drives, the experienced Wisconsin defense shuts down the visitors to earn victory number one.

MADISON - For nearly two quarters, the Wisconsin defense wasn't playing as advertised.

Poor tackling, miscommunication and the inability to stop a potent Cougar passing attack made the Badgers look vastly unprepared; not the M.O. of the cohesive unit that returned 23 letterwinners and nine starters.

As halftime drew near, Wisconsin seemingly had shaken off the cobwebs and started to tame the Cougars.

After allowing back-to-back 80-yard drives to open the game and another sustained drive with the help of a Badger fumble, Wisconsin tightened the screws, allowing only seven points and 75 yards the rest of the game in route to a 42-21 season opening victory.

The opening drive of the 2007 season looked eerily similar to the opening drive Bowling Green had in the 2006 season. Just like the Falcons took the opening kickoff and drove down field for the touchdown, the Cougars went 80 yards in eight plays off the opening kick to take the early 7-0 lead.

"I told the guys that I don't want this to be precedence for opening drives of opening seasons," Bielema joked.

The Cougar drive did stall once and the Badgers looked to have caught a big break when Kirk DeCremer blocked Darryl Blunt's kick. In an odd turn of events, the ball bounced right back to Blunt who scampered for the first down. With a new set of downs, the Cougars needed only two more plays to find the end zone and get the early lead.

If that wasn't enough, the Cougars came right back at the Badgers on their second drive and earned their second touchdown the old-fashioned way; running the ball right at an off-guard Wisconsin defense.

To say the least, the fluke play and the old-school running game took the wind out of the usually composed Badger defense.

"Unfortunately it did [deflate us] and as a defense, we don't want that change of momentum to effect us," Allen Langford said. "We have to be smart as a defense and we have to control the momentum. We should have gone out there and held our ground. We weren't able to do that."

"The biggest problem in those two series is that we let the ball get outside of us," Bielema added. "We lost leverage on the football and we missed tackled because of it. In turn, that led to two scores."

After the Cougars last score, the Badgers buckled down, not allowing the visitors to put any more points on the scoreboard in their next six series. More importantly, Wisconsin allowed only two Washington State drives over six plays the remainder of the game, putting the clamps on the QB Alex Brink and the talented Cougar passing attack.

"They are smart, intelligent [guys] and they go to the sidelines to make adjustments," Bielema said in reference to his defense.

One of the reasons for the second-half shut down was the play of free safety Shane Carter and strong safety Aubrey Pleasant – both of whom made their first career start. Pleasant led the team with four solo tackles and Carter was close behind making three. According to Langford, the two new guys weren't much different than there predecessors.

"I did not feel too much of a difference with [Aubrey and Shane] in there than Joe [Stellmacher] and Rod [Rogers]," Langford said. "That's the main thing for me as a corner to have that comfort level when I am back there. I felt we were real comfortable and really clicked back there."

With arguably their toughest non-conference test behind them, Wisconsin prepares to take its top-ten ranking to the Las Vegas desert to play UNLV. Even though the Badgers will be clearly favored thanks to their tough defense, UW knows what happened in Ann Arbor today and that they have plenty of things they can correct before next Saturday.

"I know we made some mistakes and tomorrow, we're going to come in and correct them," Aubrey Pleasant said. "I think we started off on a good foot today. We played against a very good team with a very good quarterback and got the win."

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