Defense has letdown against Panthers, battles in 4th quarter to preserve win

Vince Biegel and the Wisconsin defense struggled in the middle of the game, but came up big at the end. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

The Wisconsin Badgers’ defense was bound to have a drop-off at some point after allowing just one touchdown through their first two games of the season, but it was a surprise for it to come in week three against the Georgia State Panthers.

Nonetheless, they stepped up when they needed to late in the fourth quarter and preserved UW’s 23-17 win to remain undefeated.

“We didn’t think we were going to go through this whole season without giving up a touchdown,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “We needed [the defense] in the end, and they came up with a big stop.”

The defense played the first quarter like it had the first two weeks. Georgia State only possessed the ball for a little over two minutes of the first 15, failing to complete a single pass and only amassing two total yards of offense. Justin Wilcox’s unit was seemingly locked in.

Then in the second quarter, the Panthers went to their quick-passing attack, tiring the Wisconsin defenders. Georgia State’s redshirt junior quarterback Conner Manning then started to get into a rhythm and the Badgers got sloppy.

Missed tackles and poor execution allowed GSU to control the clock, winning the time of possession battle nearly nine to six in the second quarter. If not for a blocked field goal, the Panthers would have put points on the board. Wisconsin’s defense was clearly vulnerable.

“A lot of three-step [drops] didn’t let us get to the passer much,” redshirt junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “Other than that, I think we just have to execute better.”

Manning was getting the ball out before any Badgers’ pass-rushers could get off their blocks, dinking-and-dunking the Georgia State offense down the field on slants, screens and quick outs. The repeated two and three-yard completions helped to springboard the running game, as well as play action passes, opening up the big throws for 20, 38, 40 and 60 yards. The Panthers were then able to grab a 17-13 lead, and the momentum, in the fourth quarter.

“All three games that we’ve played in, teams got some momentum and made some plays,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “When they do come out quick, we just have to make a play on the ball and get it down and move to the next down.”

Shelton and the defense did just that with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. After Georgia State took the lead, its final two drives of the game were both three-and-outs, as Shelton and junior cornerback Derrick Tindal made plays on the ball to break up multiple Manning passes.

Wisconsin’s offense, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who replaced redshirt senior Bart Houston in the third quarter, did its job and re-took the lead, and the Badgers narrowly remained undefeated.

Despite allowing two touchdowns to what was supposed to be an inferior opponent, Wisconsin’s defense ultimately came through when it mattered.

“I think it shows the character of our defense,” redshirt senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel said. “We definitely had our backs against the wall at times, and I think the Wisconsin Badgers football team is going to get better from this game as we approach and enter our Big Ten season.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Wisconsin's defense had allowed zero touchdowns prior to the Georgia State game. The Badgers gave up one touchdown in the LSU game. The story has been updated. 

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