Wisconsin has had a top ranked defense year in and year out for seemingly the past decade. Despite changing defensivee coordinators and despite turnover prone offenses, the defense has kept Wisconsin a perennial contender.
This year, the turnover prone offense has really pushed the envelope, as it has put the defense in precarious positions in almost every game.
It was on full display last Saturday against Purdue, as quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and the other setting up Purdue in the redzone. Running back Jonathan Taylor also fumbled the ball once and punter Anthony Lotti had a punt blocked.
Wisconsin’s defense, however, was able to hold Purdue to a mere nine points. They were absolutely crucial in the win, as the offense was only able to muster up 17 points.
With a performance like that, the defense could have very easily looked to blame the offense, but that is not what they chose to do.
“No not really. I mean there’s going to be times when we got to pick them up or they have to pick us up. We kind of play off of each other. That’s a good mentality to have,” defensive end Alec James said. “It’s never just us joking around with them, it’s just us excited to get out there and stop the opposing team.”
For Wisconsin’s defense, it is important to see it as another opportunity to make plays and prove themselves worthy of being one of the nation’s top defensive units.
“Those are crucial moments in the game. When an offense has a turnover or there’s a blocked punt or something like that, as a defense we kind of need to stop the momentum that the other team has,” linebacker Garret Dooley said.
They did that against Purdue. Late in the game, after a three and out by the Wisconsin offense, Purdue was driving and threatening to tie the game. Linebacker Leon Jacobs made due on the opportunity, though, and got an interception in the redzone, effectively sealing the game for Wisconsin.
This is nothing new for the Badgers.
“Trust our training more than anything I guess. We’ve all been in these positions before, so it’s not really anything new to us. I just wouldn’t say anything changed for us,” linebacker Ryan Connelly said.
In their Big Ten opener against Northwestern, it was again the defense who had to step up and seal the victory for Wisconsin.
After Wisconsin’s offense stalled out and was forced to punt, safety Natrell Jamerson was able to down the ball on the one and the next play, safety D’Cota Dixon was able to sack the quarterback for a safety.
Wisconsin’s defense has made a habit of bailing out the offense, controlling the game for Wisconsin and winning games.
“I don’t expect nothing. I’m just a pawn out here. You know, all I’m thinking about is the boys that I’m playing with as far as a unit on defense,” Dixon said about his expectations of the offense.
Focusing on their own play has been crucial for the defense, as focusing on things out of their control, such as the offense, would be just that: thinking about things out of their control.
So Wisconsin’s defense focuses on making the most of every opportunity they have, no matter how frequent or if it is the fault of another teammate.
“It’s just a credit to the type of guys we have. When we get into those types of situations, I mean obviously it’s not what we want but at the same time we are ready to respond and we always have guys ready to make plays. We never get down,” James said.
For their part, the offense knows they have left some to be desired. They are well aware of the defense’s triumphs.
“It’s a positive knowing we can be better than we were obviously. We got bailed out a few times by the defense, there were some guys that made some plays for us,” Hornibrook said.
Wisconsin, and both their defensive and offense sides of the ball, will get another opportunity to make plays in their next game Saturday, at home against Maryland.