Oct 11, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 38-28. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Traditionally a disciplined team, Wisconsin enters Saturday with one of the top defenses in the country and maybe the best defense Maryland has seen to date. With a lot of question marks entering the season on the defensive side of the ball for the Badgers, Wisconsin has silenced its critics en route to a 4-2 record. Maryland will enter a hostile environment in Madison, but how hostile is this defense? Take a look as I break down each unit for the Badgers.
Defensive line: redshirt senior Konrad Zagzebski, sophomore Arthur Goldberg and redshirt freshman Chikwe Obasih are the starters for the Badgers defensive line that has done a great job this year stopping the run. With the experience of Zagzebski, Goldberg and Obasih are two lineman that are your typical Big Ten lineman: strong, quick and gritty. The three of them have led the way for Wisconsin this year for a defense that ranks tied for 18th in the country with 3.14 sacks per game and 34th in the nation with 6.8 tackles per loss a game. With the help of their outside pass-rushers, Wisconsin’s defensive line resembles Maryland in that they’re a little undersized, but play bigger than they are. They understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and work together to confuse the offensive line in their blitz packages. It’s worked, because Wisconsin ranks 21st in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game with just under 117 yards per game.
Linebackers: senior Marcus Trotter, senior Derrick Landisch, junior Joe Schobert and sophomore Vince Biegel are the starters for Wisconsin’s linebackers. Outside linebackers Schobert and Biegel play like Yannick Ngakoue and Cudjoe-Virgil play in the sense they contain the outsides. This season, Maryland has seen additional blockers on the Yannick twins that have prevented them from making plays that show up on the stat sheet, but Schobert and Biegel do a good job getting to the edge quickly to prevent big plays. A big reason why the Badgers give up so few yards on the ground, Maryland will need put extra emphasis on these two in order to have a balanced offense. Landisch currently ranks 48th in the country in sacks with .67 sacks per game and 31st in the country in tackles for loss with 1.3 tackles per game. He’s the undoubted leader of this defense and you can see the defense feeds of his energy. Coming into this year, this group was a big question mark after losing Chris Borland to graduation, but they’ve answered their critics and then some.
Secondary: Yeah, this group is no joke. Wisconsin is eighth in the country is passing yards allowed with 169.2 yards per game. Led by cornerbacks sophomore Sojourn Shelton and junior Darius Hillary, these two high-IQ cornerbacks remind me a lot of Maryland cornerback Will Likely. Undersized, great speed, but get beaten less than Likely. With big receivers like Deon Long and Marcus Leak for Maryland, I expect those two to get more touches than expected in an attempt to take advantage of the size mismatch. Nonetheless, it’s easier said than done. Like Likely, Hillary and Shelton play bigger than their size, play very physical and tackle well. Wisconsin likes to play more zone than man to allow their safeties to take away big plays, forcing the offense to throw shorter passes and avoiding the deep ball. With CJ Brown struggling to throw deep, I would highly advise against testing the secondary this week. In six games, Wisconsin has four interceptions this season. While that statistic may not intimidate their opponent, the Badgers have experience and arguably their most talented group in the secondary. With Maryland’s lethal playmakers in the air, expect a lot more screens and option calls on Saturday. When Wisconsin begins to bite on the screens more, CJ Brown will have the middle of the field more open for guys like Stefon Diggs to make plays, which is a scary thought.