Badgers new defense opens well
Wisconsin's new defense show good signs against overmatched foe
MADISON, Wis. — No. 23 Wisconsin’s adjustment to new coach Gary Andersen’s 3-4 defensive scheme went fine against overmatched Massachusetts.
It will likely hold up fine this week against Tennessee Tech, too. The hope is that it will be ready to roll for Arizona State in Week 3.
The Badgers smothered Massachusetts 45-0 in the season opener at home.
“If I could characterize it in one word, it would be solid,” defensive end Ethan Hemer said of the first-game performance. “There weren’t a lot of mistakes, not a lot of misalignments. Guys made plays, caused turnovers. It was overall a pretty solid performance.”
Wisconsin limited the Minutemen to 212 total yards at 3.6 yards per play, harassing starting quarterback Mike Wegzyn into a 9-for-23 passing performance for 73 yards.
“We did disrupt the quarterback, in my opinion,” Andersen said. “We took the quarterback out of the football game. That doesn’t have to be from sacks, it doesn’t have to be from hitting him. It’s from confusing him and letting him know that the clock in his mind when he gets to two seconds, he’s thinking, ‘I better get rid of this football or I am going to get hit.’ I think you saw that in the second half, especially.”
Anderson also was pleased with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his squad’s ability to adjust when Massachusetts unveiled a different offense than expected.
“What they ended up doing on offense, was a pretty radical departure from what they did a year ago,” Andersen said. “They were much more of a true spread team and we saw them line up much more in the pistol and even two backs a lot of times with an anchor tight end. That was not the case nearly as much a year ago. So I was real proud of coach Aranda and his staff and the players to the quick adjustments within two series, to be able to go back and really start to defend some things they haven’t defended since the second or third week of fall camp.”
Tennessee Tech, which finished 3-8 a year ago, opened the season with a 63-7 rout of Cumberland, an NAIA school in the process of moving to NCAA Division II. Dual -threat junior quarterback Darian Stone directed an offense that piled up 505 yards of total offense, including 323 on the ground. Stone completed 8 of 11 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more.
“We’re going to see a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks. Seeing a quarterback like Stone will give us a little bit of an idea,” Hemer said. “But we also realize Stone is his own animal – a quarterback with some talent that makes plays. He kind of jumps off the film.”
Although heavily favored, Hemer said the Badgers are not looking past Tennessee Tech, especially in the wake of last weekend’s upsets by FCS teams over FBS teams. Last season, Wisconsin held off Northern Iowa 26-21 in the season opener at home.
“The gap between FCS and FBS has closed so much now,” Hemer said. “You see teams come in to big-time stadiums and get wins. There’s a lot of killers out there, teams that you have to take seriously. We kind of approach Tennessee Tech the same way. We had a little bit of a scare last year with UNI, who’s a good team, and we don’t want to go down that path again.
Linebacker Ethan Armstrong said having two tune-up games to prepare for the meat of the schedule definitely helps.
“You get the experience with it. If you have any issues, if you have any questions, anything doesn’t look right, any guys mis-fitting something, we definitely have the time to get it corrected,” said Armstrong. “Just having two games under our belt will give us a lot more confidence going into the Arizona State game, in the sense of we’re going to definitely know what we’re doing and where we’re supposed to be.”