Michigan State claimed a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory on the strength of its defense last season. Penn State is wasting a perfectly good defensive effort this season. When discussing the best defenses in the Big Ten, Wisconsin tends to fly under the radar, but it is the defense that could lead the Badgers back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this season.
The Badgers have just allowed a total of seven points against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks, helping the Wisconsin defense move into third in the nation in defensive scoring. The most recent defensive effort turned in a shutout victory on the road against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played tough at home (ask Penn State and Michigan), but the Badgers defensive effort helped make it easy for the offense to run away with a victory in New Jersey.
Wisconsin has allowed just 14.1 points per game this season. The Badgers, not Michigan State, currently have the Big Ten’s best total defense as well, allowing an average of just 253.8 yards per game through eight games. Penn State has allowed 273.4 yards per game, and Michigan State has allowed 279.4 yards per game. If Wisconsin keeps on this pace, the Badgers will successfully improve on their total defensive average for a second straight season.
Wisconsin starts making things difficult for opposing teams by aiming to take away the running game. The Badgers have held five opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, and Wisconsin has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns in eight games. On top of that, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten against the pass, perhaps making a claim to having their own no-fly zone this season. The Badgers may not get their hands on a ton of passes (just five interceptions in eight games), but they have allowed just six passing touchdowns this season. No team in the Big Ten has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than Wisconsin (46.3 percent). Michael Caputo has been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin secondary, and he also leads the Badgers with 57 tackles this season.
Wisconsin was written off by some with a season-opening loss to LSU in Houston, and again after a tough loss at Northwestern. The defense came up small against LSU in the first game of the season while failing to protect a lead, and the Northwestern game was doomed more by losing four turnovers on offense, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a big reason why the Badgers are still in the race for the Big Ten West Division (having Melvin Gordon running the football certainly helps too, of course).
The formula for winning at Wisconsin remains similar to when Bret Bielema was coaching the program. Being solid on the ground on offense and dependable on defense has worked well for Wisconsin over the more recent seasons, and it could be what keeps them in the Big Ten championship mix. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving most of the attention right now, and Nebraska has been heralded as the next best threat, but it would be silly to forget Wisconsin the way the defense has been playing.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)