MADISON — When someone thinks of the prototypical Wisconsin linebacker, they think of a sure run stopper or a quarterback’s worst nightmare coming in from the blindside.
Senior inside linebacker T.J. Edwards is a quarterback’s worst nightmare in another way; he’s all over the field.
In Wisconsin’s first game, Utah State came out firing in the first quarter, jumping out to a 10-0 lead. The Badgers were in desperate need of momentum and Edwards lead the way for the defense.
“I thought Alex (Hornibrook) made some good throws, and then the big pick by T.J. (Edwards),” head coach Paul Chryst said. “And then came back out of halftime with a good return and kind of got things rolling.”
Edwards ended the game leading the team in all defensive statistic categories with seven total tackles, five of which were solo tackles and one being a tackle for a loss. But the biggest impact of Edwards game was felt in pass coverage.
Enter the quarterback’s worst nightmare.
The big momentum shift came when Edwards made an interception with about a minute left in the first half. It set up a Wisconsin field goal to tie the game as the first half clock expired.
“That was huge, that was huge,”starting safety D’Cota Dixon said of Edwards interception. “It was the hammer and the nail, that’s exactly what you need especially when you have a down half. It was exactly what we needed. Coach told us, leaders lead and he’s a captain for a reason.”
Fans don’t expect an inside linebacker to make a huge impact in the passing game, but that is exactly what Edwards did, adding two pass breakups (one of which just slipped through his hands for yet another interception) to his stat line.
“Every time I looked, he was celebrating, so I figured he must be something right,” starting cornerback Derrick Tindal said with a smile.
For the defensive backs, having an inside linebacker that can both be a force in stopping the run as Edwards has done throughout his career is just as crucial to helping the pass defense as his interceptions.
Being confident in the rest of your teammates is crucial in being able to execute your own positional responsibilities, according to Tindal.
“You know the cornerback can be under a lot of pressure sometimes and I don’t have to worry about turning around and the running back being right behind me,” Tindal explained. “It just helps me do my job easier. I feel like he was a reason I was able to cover so well today because I was worried about them running the ball up on us.”
The guy lining up with Edwards at inside linebacker all night was Chris Orr. While the average fan sees Edwards play against Utah State and see someone stepping up, Orr thinks that kind of play is expected of the inside linebacker position.
Be everywhere. Make the play to change the game.
“It’s very important because you know we are the heart of the defense and that’s where a lot of those big gains from, just digs (routes) right over the middle of the field,” Orr explained. “For inside linebackers, if they aren’t there to make the play, it can really hurt your defense. We’re involved in every and any play, whether it be a run or pass.”
Inspired by his teammates play, Orr hopes to step up even more.
“Oh, he had a great game tonight. I don’t know what happened. I told him ‘You trippin.’ I said, ‘you showing out’,” Orr said.
“It’s my turn next time.”