Too bad the costly turnovers and the final score clouded the praise due to the unit.
The Badgers 31-13 loss Saturday was caused by ill-advised turnovers, special teams gaffs and untimely penalties, but little blame can be placed on a Wisconsin defense that limited the Buckeyes to a season-low 184 yards of total offense.
"Defensively, we executed and did what we had to do," said junior linebacker Culmer St. Jean, who represented UW's lone turnover when he picked off Ohio State sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the first quarter. "Our defensive line played phenomenally, keeping the linebackers off double teams, and our corners played great keeping receivers in front of them. We just have to clean up mistakes."
The only real mistake the Badgers can focus on is what Pryor did at the end of the first half. With UW leading 13-10, Pryor, whose offense had been held to 32 yards on 18 plays, lead the Buckeyes on a seven-play, 88-yard scoring drive to retake the lead for good before halftime.
On the drive, Pryor ran twice for 33 yards, including a scramble of 27 on the first play, and went three-for-five in the air for 60 yards, including the 32-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey.
On the drive, the only play that could have been prevented was the 27-yard speed option from Pryor. Originally running to his left, UW's defense has flowed with the line of attack, forcing Pryor to reverse course, where sophomore tackle J.J. Watt was out of position.
Seeing the opening, Pryor was able to scramble up field and put the Buckeyes' offense in motion.
"We definitely try to force him to be more of a thrower than a runner," Watt said. "We try to keep contain on him, and obviously that one play was my contain job and I blew that. Other than that, we did a good job."
Arguably the Badgers did better than good on the Buckeyes. Wisconsin limited Pryor to a season-worst 87 passing yards and a potent Ohio State rushing attack, averaging 182 yards per game, to just 97.
Pryor, the team's leading rusher, was held to just 35 yards on 10 carries and passed 5-of-13 for 87 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"There total offense should have been down even more than that," senior Chris Maragos said. "You take that last drive away, we are looking pretty stout. It was a good performance. Guys played hard."
The only bad news for the Wisconsin defense was watching 21 points be charged against them without being on the field. It was so mind numbing for the defense to watch in the disastrous third quarter, a quarter where the Buckeyes returned an interception 32 yards for a score and a kickoff 96 yards for another, the Badgers defense didn't line up for their first play from scrimmage until there was one minute, 40 seconds left in the third quarter.
"If they are going to be scoring points, we want to be the people out there," Watt said. "We want to have a chance to stop them. It's just the way the cookie crumbles in the second half. We can't give up points like that."
Being a secondary that was chided for failing to limit an opposing offense for a full 60 minutes, including giving up 400-plus yards twice the season, Wisconsin's defense responded with its best statistical performance of the year against a team that is considered the litmus test for contending Big Ten teams.
It was a performance UW will need to parlay into its match-up with undefeated Iowa next Saturday.
"I think we are fine," Maragos said. "You take away the two pick sixes, the kickoff, that's 21 points out of their 31. They got 10 points against our defense. We are right in that game."