Wisconsin's Secondary Has Leaks To Plug

Wisconsin's Secondary Has Leaks To Plug

Football

Wisconsin's Secondary Has Leaks To Plug

MADISON, Wis. – As dominating efforts go, this one ranks right up there for the University of Wisconsin’s offense.

Scanning the stat sheet from No.16 Wisconsin’s 41-24 win over Nebraska Saturday night, it’s easy to see why a number of offensive players are excited about the group’s next step

Five hundred and thirty-three yards of total offense, 370 rushing yards, 6 of 12 on third down, 35 minutes, 33 seconds of ball control and points in all four quarters create good vibes for a group that was somewhat stuck in a rut through the first four games.

“It feels great when you know the offensive line is getting a great push and you see the holes,” tailback Taiwan Deal said, one of the benefactors with 74 yards and a touchdown run, “and you keep running until someone takes you down.”

Flip the script on Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) to the defensive side of the ball and it was again a story of domination … only by Nebraska.

The Huskers (0-5, 0-3) put up 518 yards of offense, including 362 in the second half alone. In the first three games of the season, the Badgers didn’t allow over 311 yards. The last time UW allowed over 500 yards to an offense was in 2015 to an Alabama team that played for the national championship, a far cry from this Nebraska program that hasn’t won a game since last October.

Facing a true freshman quarterback in Adrian Martinez that has burned teams with his legs, Wisconsin put heavy responsibility on preventing outside breakdowns and keeping him close to the pocket. The result was Martinez gaining only 57 yards on the ground but picking apart UW’s secondary for a career-high 384 passing yards. The last QB to throw for that many yards against UW was Penn State’s Trace McSorley in the 2016 Big Ten title game.

“Every game is an experience,” freshman corner Faion Hicks said. “We’re learning. Just trying to do it as fast as we can and keep it going.”

Looking at UW, however, and it’s not a huge stretch to see why there were problems. Sophomore cornerback Caesar Williams, who started the first three games, didn’t dress because of a leg injury. Redshirt freshman Deron Harrell, who started the last two games in his place, didn’t make it into the second half because of a head injury.

Throw Hicks playing through a torn ligament in his left thumb and the Badgers relied on sophomore Madison Cone and true freshmen Donte Burton and Rachad Wildgoose (collegiate debut Saturday) as the only fully healthy cornerbacks.

“I have no doubt about our pass defense,” Wildgoose said, bluntly. “…We just got to keep working.”

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was quick to point out that burden doesn’t lie solely on the secondary. The Badgers delivered seven quarterback hurries and two sacks on 46 drop backs but too often there weren’t enough hands in his face to force many wild throws.

Of Martinez’s 24 completions, nine went to JD Spielman (209 yards and one touchdown) and eight went to Stanley Morgan (93 yards). Spielman twice beat free safety Scott Nelson, whose tough day got tougher when he ejected for targeting in the third quarter. He’ll miss the first half of next week’s game at No.15 Michigan.

“This will be good tape to learn from,” Chryst said. “There’s areas that we can improve on defensively.”

Improvement will be needed and fast. Michigan is third in the Big Ten in scoring offense (38.2 ppg) and had quarterback Shea Patterson throw for 282 yards and three touchdowns during a 42-21 win earlier in the day. The Wolverines also have the conference’s top defense (230.5 ypg), so yards won’t be so easily handed out as they were in front of the home crowd.

While there is no question that plenty of issues need a good coat of polish, the UW defensive backs aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty on Monday.

“We really haven’t clicked so far,” said safety Eric Burrell, who likely will step in for Nelson next week. “Everybody’s doing their parts and stuff like that. The young guys are starting to learn the plays to put them in a great position. We’re starting to get there. We’re starting to work towards each other.”

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