Quantity doesn’t always equal quality.
When it comes to measuring a player’s impact in any sport, a particular focus – sometimes even to the level of obsession – is paid on statistics.
So it comes as no surprise that the Badgers’ defensive tackles haven’t received the credit they deserve for their impact in shaping the team’s season thus far. Maybe that’s the reason junior defensive tackle Beau Allen offered thanks when it was revealed a feature was being written on the group.
“It’s a thankless position,” Allen said.
Bearing the brute of the workload up front, Allen and fellow starter Ethan Hemer don’t have the stats in tackles or sacks that will make your eyes pop out of their sockets like a standout defensive end or linebacker, but their importance remains immeasurably high.
Take, for example, the season opener against Northern Iowa. With the score in favor of the Badgers 26-21 and the Panthers on the Wisconsin 41-yard line, the team needed a standout effort to close the books on their FCS opponent. On a fourth and one, Hemer delivered, bull-rushing the guard into the backfield, batting down Northern Iowa’s attempted pass and sealing the Wisconsin win.
It was Hemer’s observation, however, that served as the preamble to the decisive moment.
“What happened was I knew [the offensive guard] was weak with the shake move, so I wanted to do the shake move and power to his inside,” Hemer said. “So it was fourth-down and we needed a stop so I knew his weakness and wanted to exploit that. … We’re a defensive line that takes it upon themselves to study weaknesses and know what works best to make plays on Saturday.”
And playing a position with the constant challenge of facing double-teams from opponents’ offensive lines, film study serves as a critical tool for success. Countless hours lost in the film room help reveal the tendencies and weaknesses that defensive tackles prey on. And while they might not get the headlines and press at the end of the game, the Badgers’ defensive tackles always leave their mark on the game.
How? With, ironically, two key stats.
Through three games, Badger opponents have ran a combined 85 run plays against 116 pass plays. With a rush defense that’s holding opponents to an average of 82 yards per game – the 18th best total in the nation – it’s no surprise team’s favor the pass against this defense. Utah State, one of the undoubtedly better nonconference teams to visit Camp Randall in recent years, came into last weekend’s game averaging 214.5 yards on the ground per game. Against the Badgers’ defense, the Aggies were contained to just 127 yards.
Another area the Badgers’ defensive tackles have made noticeable strides is in their pass rush. There were several instances where Hemer, Allen or Warren Herring pushed their man a yard or two deep into the pocket against Utah State, forcing the quarterback to break from the pocket.
Herring especially has been a key component to the Badgers’ recent success in the pass game. A physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds, the redshirt sophomore made the switch coming into the 2012 season from defensive end to defensive tackle when junior Jordan Kohout was forced to end his playing career due to a series of smaller strokes he suffered during the spring linked to migraine headaches.
The Badgers No. 3 defensive tackle in the rotation has made the most of his time, showing flashes of a rare combination of speed and strength in the inside, just one of the many reasons defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge are pleased with his groups push up the middle.
“It’s been good,” Partridge said. “I think the guys are anxious to get the production we want and we’re close, we’re right there so I’m excited to see where we go.”
For Allen and the rest of his group, there might not be the glitz and glam that comes with other positions, but the importance of their job, and their success doing it, remains the same.
“I had one assisted tackle last game, and I don’t even really care,” Allen said. “It’s one thing if I think I’m missing plays and missing opportunities, but if you’re not really getting opportunities … I think my one tackle was all that I maybe could have made. You just have to be aware of the fact that you’re a guy in the middle, and you have a very important role that might not be all the glory and all the lights, but that’s not what it’s really about for us. We just try to do our best and help out our defense.”