After giving up just about the same amount of passing yards in the first half (172) against Fresno State as they did in their first game against Northern Illinois (174), it's easy to point the finger at the Badger's secondary for their defense woes.
Yet it was the secondary who came up with the big play – Chris Maragos' pick of Fresno State's Ryan Colburn in the end zone in the second overtime led to the game-winning field goal by Philip Welch – to help the Badgers hang on for a 34-31, come-from-behind win Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall.
Even with all the talk of the flu bug going around the team – one that coach Bret Bielema said plagued 40-plus players – the sort of defensive effort put forth by the secondary usually will not get the job done.
"They're always going to test us out there," said sophomore cornerback Devin Smtih, who found himself with much more playing time when Aaron Henry couldn't play because of a sickness. "Being young corners, they're really going to test us a lot out there."
Too bad Smith failed on his first big test. Already down 7-0, Smith misread Bulldog wide-out Devon Wylie. Bulldogs quarterback Ryan Colburn saw the mistake and took advantage, hoisting a pass to Wylie, who burned Smith for a 70-yard scamper into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
"I think I was expecting one thing from the receiver to come, so I was playing harder than I was actually playing the fade ball," Smith said. "He took advantage of that and got past me."
"They ran a lot of different stuff that they didn't run last week or in the past," junior corner Niles Brinkley said of the Bulldog's offense. "They spread the ball more than usual. We (weren't) expecting…they just came out, they felt like they wanted to pass."
Ajirotutu's touchdown grab may have been a wake-up call for the defense. Colburn and his receiving corps were shut down in the second half, as the defense picked him off twice in the second half and again in the second overtime.
After going 11-16 for 172 yards and three TD's in the first half, Colburn was held to just 11-20 for 117 and one TD – and those three big picks – the rest of the way. Two of those picks came on back-to-back positions for the Bulldogs in the third quarter, both inside the Wisconsin 40-yard line.
So even though the old adage – a win is a win – is true in this case, UW"s young secondary will need to study harder and score higher on their next big test.
"It just shows our resiliency," Maragos said. "We've got a bunch of tough guys. But there are a lot of things we're going to need to correct."
But for now, they're happy getting out with a "W".