With unfamiliar faces and a new formation, the Wisconsin defense won Saturday’s spring game by a score of 61-47 on Saturday.
Under the spring game scoring system, the defense scored points with outcomes considered important for defensive success, such as sacks (two points), turnovers (five points) and three-and-outs (three points).
The defense, playing as the Cardinal team, had six starters sitting out, including seniors, linebacker Chris Borland and defensive linemen Beau Allen and Brendan Kelly. The squad was also working under a new 3-4 alignment brought about by new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
However, this did not stop the defense from registering an impressive showing against the offense, playing to a close score in the first half and pulling away in the second, outscoring its counterpart 18-5 after halftime.
The newfangled 3-4 alignment, which uses three linemen and four linebackers as opposed to the 4-3 seen last year, was noticeable every time the squad lined up. The line of scrimmage regularly held five defenders, with both outside linebackers standing up next to the defensive ends.
Senior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer discussed the process of adopting a new system, noting the steep learning curve the change has brought.
“It’s a pretty radical change. Getting the bugs worked out and getting a feel for how it works is what the spring was all about,” Hemer said. “Now guys have a good feel for it and we’re going to go into fall camp and really attack the system.”
With many starters sitting, several young defenders were able to shine brightly, particularly redshirt freshman linebacker Vince Biegel, who recorded two sacks and a safety. Head coach Gary Andersen praised Biegel’s pass rushing abilities and progress through the spring.
“I sat down and evaluated Wednesday’s practice and he jumped out at me and he did again today,” Andersen said. “He made a couple big plays today, coming around the edge. He’s just playing with more confidence and is letting it rip.”
Borland also praised Biegel. “He can really rush the passer and it’s good for us to have depth at the outside linebacker spot,” Borland said. “I think he’ll be able to provide that.”
Another standout was true freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who broke up multiple passes. Andersen complimented the freshman’s handling of the transition that comes from being a spring enrollee.
“The way he’s handled the adjustment coming from high school has been impressive, not just on the field but off the field.” Andersen said. “His life flipped upside down and he’s handled it very well.”
These performances ultimately allowed the defense to secure the all-important prize of bragging rights over the offense as spring practice comes to a close.
“A lot of guys were out, that’ll be their contention,” said Borland, “but we will absolutely hold this over their heads.”