November 4, 2010

Extra week, tackling key for 'D'

MADISON - It was the icing on the cake of Wisconsin's best defensive performance in more than a decade.

One of the defining moments of the Badgers' 2009 season came in the most unlikely of circumstances, as Wisconsin led 37-0 over Purdue with just 6:44 remaining.

After turning the ball over on 3rd-and-3, the Badgers gave the Boilermakers the ball in excellent field position, needing just 39 yards to find the end zone for the first time. With backup quarterback Caleb TerBush at the helm, Purdue picked up 36 yards, giving them 2nd-and-Goal at the 3-yard line.

Three plays and a handful of impressive defensive efforts later, Wisconsin's goal line stand was complete, sealing the Badgers' first Big Ten shutout since 1999.

"We got after them," said defensive end J.J. Watt, who broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone. "We were flying around, we were having fun and we were just playing great technically-sound football.

"They put the starting defensive line back in for that goal line stand, and we were excited about that because we knew we wanted to preserve the shutout. That was a huge stand for our defense as a whole because it showed we could persevere through a tough drive and that was a big one for our team."

Having suffered back-to-back tough losses to Ohio State and Iowa last year, the Badgers were hungry for a win, and they put together an impressively complete performance against the Boilermakers.

One key factor that may have helped was having an extra week to prepare for the spread offense of Purdue. After defeating the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes this year, the Badgers had an extra week once again, and hope to use it effectively against the Boilermakers.

"I think it helped scheme-wise, we got to know some of their plays better than we normally would," linebacker Blake Sorensen said. "It just kind of gets us used to playing a spread team. We haven't really played one since Arizona State, so the extra week with more practices, it definitely helps."

After four nonconference games to begin the season, Wisconsin settled into the heart of its Big Ten schedule, facing four traditional offenses and three of the conference's top teams. Over the final four games, the Badgers will see plenty of variations of the spread from four of the second-tier teams in the Big Ten.

While they're a spread team, the Boilermakers utilize the run quite a bit from the spread look, creating another wrinkle to figure out as the Badgers prepare for Purdue. Last year, Wisconsin looked like it knew what was coming holding Purdue - the Big Ten's fourth-leading offense in terms of yardage entering the contest - to only 141 total yards.

The Boilermakers gained just 60 yards on 29 rushing attempts while picking up 81 yards through the air on just nine completions. To have similar success, the Badgers will need to put together a strong team effort in terms of tackling this week, especially in the open field.

"Defensively we've got to tackle well, probably now more than ever because in spread offenses, they create one-on-one spacing, so that's a big difference in this game," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We haven't had many missed tackles.

"But, again, now that this is a different type of offense, where there's one-on-one tackling because of the spread formations, it's going to be a unique challenge that we really haven't seen to this point."

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