With another strong performance against Illinois Saturday, the Wisconsin defense continues to become one of the best units in the nation.
For the first time since 1951, Wisconsin has limited all five of its opponents to seven points or fewer. Additionally, the Badgers lead the nation in scoring defense (5.2 points per game) and total defense (193.2 yards per game).
Led by the dominant defense, the Badgers are off to 5-0 start overall with a 2-0 mark in the Big Ten, the program’s best start since Wisconsin won the Big Ten championship in 1998. Head coach Barry Alvarez realizes that in order to take home the title this season, his team must prove itself against the conference’s elite programs.
“We’ve stumbled because we weren’t good enough to beat better teams,” Alvarez said. “It’s not nuclear physics. You have to win games (against good teams), the better teams win them … and let’s face it, we weren’t good enough then. We put ourselves in position but weren’t capable of making plays. [This year] hopefully, we are a better football team, and with our veterans we should take a step forward and be improved.”
Along with the defense, the pressure is on the special teams to give the Badger defense enough room to operate. Starting punter Ken DeBauche believes the field position battle will be crucial against conference rival Ohio State.
“I know every punt could be the difference between the other team getting any points or them getting them a touchdown or a field goal,” DeBauche said. “I know that every punt could be the difference in the ballgame, even though it’s not necessarily correlated with that…but we don’t want to give [Ohio State] good field position.”
Stocco settling in: Though his numbers weren’t superior against Illinois, quarterback John Stocco has started and won all five games this season. Despite being badgered by his critics for not having the arm of Jim Sorgi or the legs of Brooks Bollinger, Stocco doesn’t let his critics determine how he plays.
“I look at my mistakes, what I did wrong, and I try to correct those; but I don’t care about what people have to say outside the coaches,” Stocco said. “I am always going to be criticized and I am not out here to make people happy. I am out here to win football games and help this team win. Obviously, I can play a lot better and I know I will. I just have to try and get better each week.”
Stocco knows his play will be critical against Ohio State, as the offense will face its toughest challenge thus far.
“We have to focus on what we are doing,” Stocco said. “We have to execute, we have to play our game because if we aren’t making plays, it doesn’t matter what they are doing. It’s been frustrating this year [offensively]. We have done a lot of good things; we just haven’t put points on the board. I thought we definitely improved last game and we just have to continue improving and executing.”
Scouting the Buckeyes: Ranked in the top 10 until a loss to Northwestern moved them to No. 18 in the AP poll this week, the Buckeyes will be a formidable foe Saturday. Along with having a strong defensive front and quick secondary, Ohio State’s stadium, the Horseshoe, has been labeled as one of the toughest college football environments in the nation. Alvarez and the Badgers will need a strong performance to earn a win in their first Big Ten road game.
“Ohio State has that special style of football,” Alvarez said. “It doesn’t matter what their offense does. If you can play good defense, stop the run and don’t turn the ball over, you’ll win. That’s football 101, and that’s their style. Football is important in Ohio, and [Ohio State] is their flagship school. I like the way they play football, and I like the way they go about their business. We have to play sound fundamentally and play just our game.”