Here it is! Part two of our three-part interview with Bucky’s 5th Quarter. We were lucky enough to chat with the brilliant Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) all about the Wisconsin offense.
What is the Badger defense?
The Wisconsin defense has been relatively solid all year long. Predicated on pressuring the quarterback and stuffing the run from a 3-4 set, the Badgers rely heavily on man-to-man coverage in the secondary which can leave the cornerbacks on an island.
In the first six games of the season, Wisconsin was tops across all major defensive measures due to strong play and a lower competition level. Outside of Michigan, only four of those six teams ending up bowl eligible, and Wisconsin recorded three shutouts.
In the middle of the season Wisconsin struggled with tackling and giving up big plays against Illinois, Ohio State, and Nebraska. The Badgers seemed less disciplined in the run game, which left the secondary in a tough position, ultimately hampering the team.
The defense bounced back since that stretch to regain some of its footing. Overall this defense has a little Jeckyll & Hyde to them, but when they Jim Leonhard’s crew are on they are tough.
Chris Orr and Zack Baun are a couple of scary dudes. What do they bring to the table and how are they utilized in this defense?
They are very smart and quick in pass rushing situations. Both fifth-year seniors, they are the undisputed leaders of the defense and have combined for over 140 tackles and 24 sacks from their linebacker positions. The duo are deployed to cause havoc in the backfield in passing situations, but they are also stout in the run game. They are called upon to blitz often, but Jim Leonhard likes to use them with twists and shifting them all along the line as stand-up backers to mix it up.
Who are some other defensive players capable of haunting the nightmares of Duck fans?
Chris Orr’s running mate at inside linebacker is Jack Sanborn. Only a true sophomore he is a sure tackler, and he can make some splash plays in both the run and pass game. Along the defensive line Isaiahh Loudermilk is a specimen at 6-foot-7 and over 300 pounds. He is good at eating up double-teams and if he can’t get to the quarterback he is good at getting into passing lanes and batting down passes.
If you were game planning against the Wisconsin defense, what would be your strategy assuming you have the right players to take advantage of the Badgers’ weaknesses?
I would use zone-read concepts to try to get the defense out of position in the run game. Wisconsin has struggled against running quarterbacks who can either hand it off, run with it, or throw it off play-action. Wisconsin flows fast to swallow up the run, a mobile quarterback can slow that aggressiveness a bit, and can also allow for the offense to take shots down the field as well given the defenses hesitation.
Any injuries on defense?
Starting free safety Scott Nelson has been gone since week one, and starting nose tackle Bryson Williams has been out for the last half of the season. Both key contributors, Wisconsin has filled in for them very nice. Wisconsin has a trio of safeties behind Nelson that have played well. At nose guard, true freshman Keeanu Benton has been tremendous at filling in for Williams.
Chris Orr was banged up for the second half of the Big Ten Championship which definitely hurt the Badgers. He is cleared and healthy to play. Outside linebacker Noah Burks also missed a big chunk of the Big Ten Championship game due to injury, but he also should be back. So unless something happens during practice this week in Pasadena they should be at relatively full strength.
What is your score prediction and who will be named MVP?
I have been torn on this game. I think the teams are very evenly matched in a lot of ways. I will go with Wisconsin winning 28-24, with Jack Coan or Jonathan Taylor taking home MVP.