September 20, 2008

Bye week look at defense and special teams

MADISON, Wis. - So far in 2008, the Badger defense has stifled opponents, never allowing them to score more than 17 points. With many questions heading into the season, UW has provided multiple answers in the early stages of the schedule.

The following is a look at the defense, it's players, and positions that have stood out to this point in the young season.

Defense

In general, opposing defenses have only mustered 13.7 points per game after three games. A season ago, the Badger defense gave up 21.7 points per contest through three games. After seeing multiple key players already sidelined or suffering new injuries in spring ball, the defense has recovered and done so in surprising fashion, limiting opponents to eight points less than a year ago developing a swagger.

"I'm not trying to bring up old, but maybe from 2006," Jonathan Casillas said. "I think we could be that good. We were very good back then and I see a lot of potential now."

Defensive line

This position was arguably the biggest question mark entering the season. All four projected starters, Matt Shaughnessy, Jason Chapman, Mike Newkirk, and Kirk DeCremer (who is no longer active with the team), were injured or recovering from serious injuries during spring practice. As all have healed and the addition of O'Brien Schofield, the position has morphed into one of the defenses strongest.

On average, opponents have only tallied 87.7 yards per game. Along with that, four of the team's five sacks have come from the line.

"I had confidence with my guys that are with me in the trenches," Chapman said. "You got to have respect for them and confidence in them. You're a unit, without that, you wouldn't have a unit."

Linebackers

Jaevery McFadden has put on a tackling clinic as the new middle linebacker. In three games, the first time starter has 27 tackles to lead the team. DeAndre Levy, who had one of the best games of his career last weekend, is second on the team in tackles with 18.

When Casillas went down with a sprained MCL midway through fall camp, Blake Sorensen suddenly was thrown into a starting outside linebacker role. He started the first two games before Casillas returned against Fresno State and recorded seven tackles, and one TFL.
In his only appearance in 2008 so far, Casillas also has seven tackles and rounds out one of UW's more talented linebacker cores.

Secondary

By losing Jack Ikegwuonu to the NFL draft, and having Allen Langford and Aaron Henry recovering from ACL surgery, the Badger secondary was thin, to say the least.

Still, young guns Mario Goins and Niles Brinkley have filled the voids. Brinkley's two interceptions also lead the team. And a healthy Langford is having a great start to his final season.

At the safety position, new starter Jay Valai is a solid tackler and Shane Carter remains a big play threat at the free safety spot. Overall, except for a couple big plays at Fresno State, the secondary has improved with coverage and tackling from this time a season ago.

Special teams

Two unknown kickers have turned into two reliable specialists in the opening stages of 2008. Philip Welch has only missed one field goal attempt and that was blocked. Brad Nortman has showcased his monster leg in achieving a 43.9-yard average, including a long of 58.

Gilreath remains steady as a kick returner and has the potential to make a big play every time he touches the ball. Finally, kick coverage has been exceptional as well. In the first three games, the Badgers have had to deal with the top three kick return specialists from last season, and shut each and every one of them out.

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