Border Battle

Musso, secondary lead Badgers to rivalry win on Senior Day

Senior defenders Vince Biegel (left) and Leo Musso (right) were catalysts in the Badgers' 31-17 win over Minnesota Saturday.

Image By: Jessi Schoville

Entering this season, the Wisconsin Badgers’ secondary was the biggest question mark defensively as they had to replace three starters on the back end with questionable depth. Now, the only question about this group is just how good they can be.

The No. 5 Badgers (7-2 Big Ten, 10-2 overall) leaned heavily on their secondary in a 31-17 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-4, 8-4), and they responded to adversity with three fourth-quarter interceptions to swing the momentum of the game and secure Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Senior Day.

“We’ve been challenged all year, from the beginning, when people said that we’re the liabilities of this defense and the liabilities of this team,” redshirt senior safety Leo Musso said. “I love when teams test us because it gives us more opportunities to make plays.”

Musso took advantage of the opportunities redshirt senior Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner gave him, starting the second-half interception party midway through the third quarter. The Gophers were in the midst of an eight-play, 61-yard drive and sniffing the endzone once again with a seven-point lead.

On third-and-9 from the 14-yard line, Wisconsin disguised its coverage pre-snap, and as Leidner finished his play action, he thought he had an open man in the corner of the endzone. That opening was in Musso’s coverage the whole time, and he cut across from midfield to jump in front of the receiver and make the catch.

It was yet another example of how Musso leads the secondary by example, but he tapped into a different type of leadership during halftime of the game. The Badgers finished the second quarter down 17-7 after Leidner tore up their defense on the ground and through the air, and Wisconsin needed a spark.

“I just kind of saw the demeanor of everybody and looked at the axe and just kind of felt convicted that I had to say something,” Musso said. “I just told everybody, relax, forget what’s going on with senior day, forget that it’s our last home game, just go out there and play.”

“I just told them straight up, that was the worst half of football that we’ve played as a team.”

With words of inspiration and an interception to back up his big talk, Musso had his defense locked in for the second half, shutting out the Gophers over the last two quarters and holding them to minus-7 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.

“It was kind of a surprise,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “I think of Vince [Biegel], Dare [Ogunbowale], guys like that, but he stepped up, he gave the speech and everybody felt with it, gravitated toward it and came out and played good football.”

Shelton played inspired football down the stretch, and the four-year starter wasn’t going to leave his Senior Day without getting in on the turnover action. He gave the Badgers’ offense great field position for the game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter when he nabbed his first of two interceptions on the day.

He took a chance and jumped the route he had read perfectly, and 40 yards later Wisconsin’s offense was taking over in the redzone.

“I was just trying to make something happen. It was a key play in a kind of adverse situation where they were kind of moving the ball, and we needed something to shape,” Shelton said. “I just took a risk and went for it, and that just comes from the confidence coach [Jim] Leonard has in me. He always tells me, if I see something, just play you and go get it.”

For much of this season, it really has seemed as easy as “see it, go get it” for Wisconsin. Losses to Michigan and Ohio State aside, the Badgers capped off a remarkable regular season that very few outside of that locker room saw coming.

They saw the Freedom Trophy, and they went and got it. They saw the Heartland Trophy, and they went and got it. They saw the Big Ten West Division Trophy, and they went and got it.

Now their sights are set on the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff. Coach Leonard will tell this secondary playing at the top of their game to go get it.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.