Badger defense readies for tough test against Iowa

Garret Dooley and the Badgers' defense hopes to knock off Iowa and continue their undefeated season on Saturday.

Image By: Brandon Moe

On the back of a week where Iowa upset Ohio State by 31 points and the Badgers fell in the AP rankings after a comfortable win at Indiana, senior defensive end Alec James is rather uninterested in any of college football’s recent chaos.

As his team enters week 11 with a spotless 9-0 overall record, truthfully, he has little reason to be.

“I didn’t know that until you told me,” James said of the Badgers’ recent fall from No. 4 to No. 6 in the AP standings. “I don’t really focus on any of the polls too much.”

While the poll voters may debate the merit of Wisconsin’s record, its favorable schedule to date or its lack of blowout wins, the statistics once again back up the notion that the Badgers boast one of the best defenses in the country.

Wisconsin currently ranks No. 6 in the nation in total defense, allowing a stingy 13.3 points per game and under 90 rushing yards per contest.

A big part of that has been the Badgers’ strong pass rush, as 13 different players can lay claim to at least one sack this season.

Senior outside linebacker Garret Dooley and James, first and second respectively in sacks thus far, may be the team’s premier pass rushers, but it’s the Badgers depth that has allowed the two to shine this season.

“It just kinda opens it up because they can’t just zone in on one pass rusher,” Dooley said of the team’s stable of talented defenders. ”Everyone’s gonna have one on ones and that’s what makes it key.”

Outside of Dooley and Jacobs, junior transfer outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel has chipped in with a healthy five sacks of his own, while fellow outside linebacker, senior Leon Jacobs, has 2.5 thus far.

Still, Dooley’s team-leading 6.5 sacks (his 9.5 tackles for loss also lead the team) have been immense for the Badgers, as the senior has managed to refine his game even in his last season of eligibility.

“Last year I think at times he played a little bit conservative, just ‘I’m gonna take care of my job, and I’m gonna do this,’” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Dooley. “And now I think he sees himself as a little bit more of a dynamic player, and sees himself as a guy that has to consistently be ‘that guy.’ It’s always fun to watch players take that next step.”

At Wednesday’s practice Dooley said that his development of countermoves on the line of scrimmage has made him a better player. He adds that he’s now more adaptable to the various tactics that opposing linemen may throw at him.

And while the Badgers have watched tape of Iowa’s recent blowout of Ohio State, their focus is still mostly inward, on the methods and techniques that has made this defense a formidable group once again.

“There’s definitely things that are gonna’ be different for us since we run a completely different defense,” James said of Iowa’s offensive performance against the Buckeyes last week. “But we just gotta make sure we’re all gap sound, everyone does their job and runs to the ball.”

That will be slightly easier said than done when No. 25 Iowa (3-3 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) visits the No. 6 Badgers (6-0, 9-0) this weekend, as the Hawkeyes are coming off a surprising, yet dominating 55-24 win over No. 11 Ohio State.

Though the Badgers beat Iowa last season, Iowa took the Heartland Trophy during its last trip to Camp Randall in 2015.

“Obviously it stung back then,” Dooley said. “But getting the win last year definitely helped with that retaliation mentality.”

He’ll be hoping to match the latter result in his last go at the Hawkeyes.

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