Just five days after Nebraska’s second-half comeback left the Badgers reeling, Wisconsin is looking to regain some of the bravado that put it on the map as a perennial Big Ten contender and catapulted it to two consecutive Rose Bowl Games.
Twenty unanswered points in the last 25 minutes of a game isn’t the ideal place to start development, but with seven games left in the season, it’s certainly no place to stop.
Defense has been Wisconsin’s saving grace this season, the only facet of its game that is ranked in the top 95 in the nation—though sitting at 35th with 20.2 points allowed per game is nowhere near perfect.
Improvement is the word of the week for the Badgers, who return home to face Illinois in their first game Big Ten game against a Leaders Division opponent.
“Obviously right after a loss, naturally you want to be mad, sad or angry about it,” said redshirt sophomore safety Michael Trotter. “One thing the coaches are stressing to us is not to hang our heads.”
One of the big storylines last Saturday was the way Nebraska dominated time of possession in the second half. It was very similar to the way theFighting Illini have held the ball for long stretches this year, averaging nearly six more minutes of possession per game than their opponents.
“Illinois likes to use the no-huddle, kind of slow-tempo, run-the-clock-down offense.” Trotter said.
With the defensive unit on the field for a better part of the second half last week in Lincoln, the Badger ‘D’ needs to establish a tempo early on to have success against a meticulous Illini offense.
Building momentum by creating turnovers is the best way to accomplish this, according to co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge.
“Last week we finally got a couple,” Partridge said. “Really, [maintaining tempo] is just a matter of ending drives on defense.”
Wisconsin looks poised to do just that. With the projected return from injury of two experienced defensive linemen—redshirt junior Pat Muldoon and redshirt senior Brendan Kelly—the defensive front looks to come out with a vengeance Saturday.
Those comebacks are in addition to the hopeful return of redshirt senior safety Shelton Johnson, who left the game against Oregon State with a broken arm just four weeks ago. The safety has been practicing this week.
“We’re being smart in terms of his amount of contact,” Partridge said. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll play Saturday.”
Partridge maintains, however, “how much [Johnson] plays, or even if he plays will be a Saturday decision.”
As of this week Wisconsin is one of two teams left in the nation without an interception, joining South Florida on that short list.
And while the loss at Nebraska was certainly heartbreaking for the Badgers, all is not yet lost.
“You can see when you walk into the locker room guys are still joking around, having fun.” Trotter said. “We’re going to do the best we can, but we’re going to have fun and enjoy it as well. The rest will take care of itself.”