Badger defense aims to put weekend struggles behind it

first_imgExpectations abounded last weekend when the Wisconsin Badgers traveled to Evanston, Ill., to face the Northwestern Wildcats. A 6-0 record, a place atop the Big Ten conference and an end to a six-year skid in Evanston were all supposed to occur in the eyes of many. What wasn’t expected was a defensive collapse. Yet that’s exactly what transpired. The Badger defense was confused by the volatile Wildcat offense after giving up an average of 18.2 points per game entering Saturdays contest. Wisconsin’s defense imploded in the second half, allowing 41 second-half points and 51 total points to an unranked Northwestern squad.The Badger defense was out of rhythm all day long and was repeatedly beaten by Northwestern tailback Tyrell Sutton and quarterback Brett Basanez. Sutton, who rushed 244 yards along with three touchdowns, punished the Badgers with his explosive runs and bruising style.”We were confused by all of the things they were doing. We didn’t effectively get them corrected on the sideline so they continued to take advantage of us and not let us get settled in,” linebacker Mark Zalewski said.The Badgers, who were giving up 77.4 rushing yards per game in their first five contests, gave up 319 yards on the ground against Northwestern. Wisconsin was unable to make the big stop down the stretch and put on a clinic of how not to tackle. The defense knows they can play better and it will have to start this week against archrival Minnesota.”Everyone on the defense is really excited to get out there and play another game and show the last week was not the real defense,” Zalewski said. “Everyone’s eager to get out there and show what our defense is really all about.”Minnesota’s rushing attack, which leads the Big Ten in rushing yards per game this season, is led by junior tailback Laurence Maroney. Maroney, who is averaging 150 yards per game his season, leads a Minnesota offense that ranks third in the Big Ten.”Maroney is a really good football player. He does great things when the ball is in his hands. If you ask me his truest assets are that he’s very fast and he’s very physical, he’s not a guy who’s going to dance around a whole lot and make people miss him,” defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “Maroney is one of those guys who sees a hole and goes straight ahead, and that’s what makes him a powerful explosive back.”The most important thing for the Badgers this weekend will be stopping the run and forcing Minnesota’s unproven pass offense to make plays. Minnesota’s passing attack, has been led by junior signal caller Bryan Cupito so far this season, but an injury to the Cincinnati native may have put him on the shelf for this weekend’s matchup.Thus Minnesota, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total passing yards may be forced to turn to redshirt freshman Tony Mortensen. The Badgers know they cannot allow Maroney, and back up running back Gary Russell, to get into a rhythm and will do everything they can to force the Gopher quarterbacks to make plays through the air.”Were really going to have to swarm to the ball, get of our blocks, get to him [Maroney] quick and wrap him up,” defensive lineman Joe Monty said. “We’re going to have to get to him early and not let him get into a rhythm.”The Badgers defense will look to come out strong this week and prove that they are the unit that helped Wisconsin start 5-0, and not the defense that was embarrassed by a lesser opponent in Northwestern a week ago.”We know we have something to prove this week, and that’s the competitive nature of our football team,” Bielema said. “Our guys obviously have a big challenge to respond to this week, not just from the standpoint of [what] Minnesota brings to the table, but with what happened a week ago. Our guys know people are going to be concerned with how we respond this week, and our guys are up for the challenge.”last_img