It may be hard to remember after a disastrous game against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a top ranked defense for all of 2017. And they will be taking the field in the Orange Bowl against Miami this weekend to prove that once again.
Wisconsin, with its first ranked defense allowing only 253.2 yards per game, will be taking on Miami, with its 11th ranked redzone offense scoring on 93 percent of their trips.
Miami’s offense leader is quarterback Malik Rosier who boasts a 54.6 percent completion percentage, is closing in on a 3,000 yard season and has 25 touchdowns to go along with 11 interceptions.
But that’s just what he does in the air. Much like their last opponent, the opposing quarterback can run.
The versatile Rosier also has 427 yards on the ground this year as well as five rushing touchdowns.
The main difference between him and J.T. Barrett in their styles is that Barrett is a physical runner, never to be denied at least three yards, where Rosier is more speed and agility.
“Talent wise, they’re like Ohio State. They got some quick shifty guys. They have a good offense,” safety Natrell Jamerson said.
They also have an efficient running back who is averaging six yards per carry on his way to 907 yards on the season. He is also a threat out of the backfield with 219 yards receiving. Travis Homer, the running back, has eight total touchdowns on the season.
After going through the gauntlet of Big Ten conference play, Wisconsin’s defense has faced traditional power offenses, spread offenses and pro style offenses.
That gives the Badgers an edge in preparing for Miami.
“A lot of the teams we’ve played against this year, it kind of helped to break down Miami’s offense,” nose tackle Olive Sagapolu said. “I mean, they’re a spread team and have great athletes.”
Some teams that they can be compared to are Ohio State and the high power Purdue offense.
“More of a mixture of things. They’re like a Purdue, they’re like an Ohio State. They’re like a lot of the spread teams we’ve faced this year. But there’s little tweaks here or there,” Sagapolu said.
The focus, however, for Wisconsin’s defense as they prepare for the Orange Bowl, has been more on what they can control directly. Themselves.
“Now we starting to just focus in on Miami. The first few practices, we were just tightening things up within our team,” Jamerson said.
The break between the conference championship week and bowl season is a bit different from the normal week teams have to prepare for games. It will have been almost a month since their loss to Ohio State when Wisconsin takes the field on Dec. 30 in Miami.
It gives time to the teams to not only focus on their opponent, but fine-tune the little details in their own schemes and packages. They even have time to take part in the long honored tradition of cramming for final exams, as they are student-athletes.
“It’s more just staying in tune with what we got this week. There’s a lot of breaks but there’s a lot of to take care of academically,” Sagapolu said. “The most important thing is too finish off school the right way and finish with a good GPA and then focus on practices.”
One thing they also get to reflect on in the month of preparation is the final moments they have together as a team.
For senior linebacker Leon Jacobs it’s “the last week with all the guys with us being seniors and all.”
That sentiment ran deep on the team in the final week leading up to their trip down to Miami for the final game of the 2017 season.
“Looking forward to the game, counting down the days and counting down the opportunities we get to spend with each other and enjoy each other as a company,” Sagapolu said.
Players to watch on Wisconsin’s defense will be junior linebacker T.J. Edwards and junior cornerback Nick Nelson.
Edwards is possibly the most versatile linebacker in the country and will look to wreak havoc in both the run game, stopping Homer, and the pass game, stopping Rosier.
On the season, Edwards has 11.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and four interceptions. He could very well forgo his senior season and head to the NFL and a monster game against Miami with the nation watching could put him over the edge.
Nelson is in the same boat. On the cusp of possibly forgoing his senior season and heading to the NFL. He leads the country this year with 20 passes broken up but is lacking any interceptions on the season.
The two juniors will be keys for Wisconsin’s defense to return to its dominant self.
No doubt the defense is not quick to forget their hand in the loss against Ohio State when they take on Miami.
“Just to go out with a W and everything will take care of itself. You know, obviously, we missed our goal of making it into the playoffs but I still think we can end it on a good note with a win,” Jacobs said.