It is hard to find flaws in the University of Wisconsin’s defense this season. Then again, one could easily argue it is difficult to find an offense that is really any good on the schedule too.
Wisconsin is fifth in the country in scoring defense (13.3 points per game), fourth in rushing defense (78.8 yards per game) 23rd in passing defense (186.2 yards per game) and sixth in total defense (265 yards per game). Those are impressive numbers, but sometimes the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.
However, some of the advanced stats also tell us Wisconsin’s defense comes in to Week 8 of the college football season as one of the strongest in the nation. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Wisconsin is fifth in the country in S&P+ defense, while also ranking ninth in S&P+ rushing defense. The Badgers defensive line, which doesn’t get much in the way of publicity, is also one of the best in the country — ranking seventh nationally.
All of that is impressive, but Maryland posses easily the biggest challenge to Wisconsin’s rushing defense it has seen in the Big Ten and it could be the biggest of the year.
Here’s how the run games of UW’s opponents to date rank:
Utah State – 88th (143.7)
Florida Atlantic – 16th (258.6)
BYU – 126th (87.8)
Northwestern – 95th (135.1)
Nebraska – 98th (133.5)
Purdue – 107th (124.5)
Maryland tops all of them but Florida Atlantic, who has decided that passing the football isn’t a good option anymore. UW’s defense lit up the Owls run game though, holding them to just 106 yards on 35 attempts, which is the second-lowest output of the season for FAU.
The Terps come in with the fifth-best run game in the Big Ten, averaging 178.2 yards per game. In three of the six games play, Maryland has put up 200-plus yards on the ground. However, they have also been held to under 100 yards in three games against the best defenses they’ve faced so far this season.
Maryland put up a season-low 42 yards against UCF and have been held under the 100-yard mark in each of the past two games (against Ohio State and Northwestern).
So, it may be hard to figure out just which rushing team is going to show up. One thing has been clear, without a running threat at quarterback this is a team that has struggled to not allow opponents to just tee off on inside runs and blitzes to stop the run.
One thing we do know is that running back Ty Johnson is one of the most explosive running backs in the Big Ten. He’s sixth in the conference with an average of 81.3 yards per game, but he’s also averaging a healthy 7.2 yards per carry. That number trails only Raheem Blackshear, Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins in the Big Ten.
It certainly will be an interesting challenge, as UW hasn’t allowed an opponent to rush for more than 110 yards and has held all but Florida Atlantic and Nebraska to under 100 yards rushing. Can that trend keep up against what seems to be the Badgers’ Achilles heel — explosive plays from the opposition?
UW will face a challenge they haven’t seen much of this season, and we said the same thing last week against Purdue. Jim Leonhard’s crew responded by allowing just 155 yards and picking off a pass in the process. If that challenge can be met, perhaps the Badgers will be up to this one too?