Sports

Defense provides 'big swing' for Badgers in 45-14 win over New Mexico

After allowing a touchdown on the opening drive, Wisconsin's defense tightened up and gave up just 45 yards on the next seven drives to give the offense a chance to take over.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

It took longer than they would have liked, but the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 Big Ten, 2-0 overall) cruised to a 45-14 victory over the New Mexico Lobos.

Once again, it was Wisconsin’s defense that led the way. After an opening 17 play, 87-yard touchdown drive for the Lobos, the defense gave up just 45 total yards on the next seven drives and produced two turnovers.

The Badgers defense prides itself on its ability to get stops when put into tough situations in their own half. Last week, Jim Leonhard’s crew gave up just three points out of four red zone trips for Western Kentucky, including three turnovers. Saturday was no different.

After an Alex Hornibrook interception in the third quarter, Wisconsin’s defense took over at their own 26-yard line, but it took the Badgers just three plays to get the ball back. A Madison Cone pass breakup, Ryan Connelly tackle on a Sheriron Jones’s QB draw, and Scott Nelson interception gave the ball right back to UW’s offense. Andrew Van Ginkel went unblocked and crushed Jones on the third down play, disrupting the throw and giving Nelson an easy interception.

“I think the big swing came on Scott’s [Nelson] pick,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “Gink [Van Ginkel] had some pressure on it, and then the offense scores off of that. I was proud of the response, the way guys individually handled things and collectively.”

Isaiahh Loudermilk returned from injury and made his first appearance for the Badgers in 2018, providing an immediate boost to a defensive end group that had been relying on a redshirt freshman and a converted offensive lineman. Loudermilk played more snaps than most expected and was in the Lobos’ backfield all day, forcing Jones into bad throws and disturbing the run game.

“It felt great — being out there, being able to play with my teammates again,” Loudermilk said. "I felt like I handled it well. My legs felt great, my knee feels amazing. It feels 100 percent normal. I felt like I was able to go out there and play aggressively and kind of live in the backfield.”

“It was really nice, seeing him fly around to the ball. His natural positioning was really good,” redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kayden Lyles said.

Lobos quarterback Tevaka Tuioti left the game in the second quarter after getting levelled by Van Ginkel. Halfway through the third quarter, a miscommunication between new quarterback Sheriron Jones and center Kyle Stapley led to a Lyles fumble recovery. Madison Cone added an interception late in the fourth quarter.

On offense, a sloppy first half gave way to an efficient second half, where the Badgers scored 35 of their 45 points. A pair of turnovers encapsulated UW’s early offensive struggles — in the second quarter, Jonathan Taylor fumbled on New Mexico’s 4-yard line, and Alex Hornibrook was picked off in the third quarter after getting hit. After the interception, the Badgers found the end zone on their next five drives, three of which came after the defense forced turnovers.

Taylor’s one major flaw has been ball security, and he has done nothing to silence those concerns through the first two games. Taylor already has two fumbles on his first 51 carries in 2018. After his fumble, Taiwan Deal got the first three carries before Taylor got back in, where he promptly scored on a 16-yard run.

“One thing is, how do you respond?” Taylor said. “He [Chryst] always talks about how the game won’t go your way the entire game. You will always face adversity, it’s how you respond your teammates are going to need you, everyone leans on one another so we all have to respond back from adversity.”

“Those are the things you’ve got to — you’re going to be in those situations again, and you’ve got to just work at it,” Chryst said. “Part of that response is how do you practice? And how can you put yourself in those situations? But there’s also a mentality of, 'All right, I’m going to clean this up and keep going.'”

Taylor set a career best with 253 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns.

In the passing game, it was a one man show for A.J. Taylor. Taylor tallied five catches for 134 yard and a touchdown, highlighted by a top-10 worthy one-handed snag in the first quarter. No other Badgers receiver recorded more than one catch.

“I think we started to really click,” Taylor said. “I mean, shoot, we’ve been doing this a lot — playing really well in the second half, but I think we started coming together as an offense. We started to feed off each other and feed off the defense.”

Although the Badgers get Danny Davis back this week, A.J. Taylor feels like he is capable of being UW’s go-to receiver.

“It’s definitely a big deal — you have to step up, somebody has to step up. I think the whole receiver core, we’ve all stepped up. We’ve all taken pride in that. I think that’s what has gotten me better and gotten me to this opportunity.” 

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