November 7, 2009

UW's pass defense struggles in win

BLOOMINGTON - Defensively, the Wisconsin football team has not seen a more productive quarterback than Ben Chappell was on Saturday. The Indiana junior threw for 323 yards on 22-of-30 passing and connected with receivers for three touchdowns.

He was poised in the pocket, threw confidently and overcame two interceptions to put his team in position for the upset. But, in the end, he and the Hoosiers came up short.

Still, even in a winning effort, it was that shoddy defense that left the Badgers with a bit of a salty taste in their mouths.

"It was a weird feeling walking into the locker room," UW sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt said. "It was kind of quiet. That's a sign for good things for our team because nobody is really satisfied with what we did today.

"We're happy we got the win, but we didn't play the way we wanted to play all four quarters."

While the Badger defense had problems against the pass, it continued to be stiff against the rush and held another Big Ten opponent below the 100-yard mark. Through six conference games, UW has yet to let any team rush for the century mark in a single game.

"We knew we were going to dominate at the line of scrimmage," UW senior safety Chris Maragos said. "We really felt that we had an advantage there…I don't know what it was passing to rushing, but I didn't see too many rushes."

The rush defense has been a strength for this Badger squad. It ranks first in the Big Ten in rushing yardage allowed and continues to dominate the line of scrimmage.

But the passing defense has been a totally different story. On Saturday, it seemed Indiana was targeting the UW cornerbacks. If they weren't targeting them, they were trying to open up the field with deep passes by attacking the safeties.

As a result, the Hoosier offense was able to burn the Badger defense with deep passing plays, including Tandon Doss' 46-yard touchdown reception near the end of the first half.

"In the first half they hit us deep a couple of times," Maragos said. "So obviously you want to give a little bit of cushion. The guys had good speed. We knew that they were going to try to max protect and throw deep so obviously any time you can throw it deep, it's just like the running game. It opens up things underneath.

"That's what it was today and that's what happened."

Still, anytime a defense gives up 300 yards passing, it is likely a problem that stems deeper than just the play of the secondary. It starts up front with a lack of pressure and extends into the back end of the defense.

In total, Chappell was only sacked one time and the Badgers forced two interceptions off of hurries, but they were still burned more times than they would have liked.

"Guys were getting hits on him (Chappell)," UW senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield said. "We didn't get as many sacks on him as we would like. The biggest thing in our keys to victory this week was to rattle their quarterback. I think we did that for the most part."

Anomaly or not, with three games left on the schedule against what will be three different spread offenses, the Badgers have got to figure out their pass coverage soon or it's going to continue burning them.

"I think we're going to continue to look at areas we're deficient in and understand where we're susceptible and continue to progress," Maragos said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We're making strides."

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