MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Badgers have no idea how good their defense is.
Seriously, they don’t. At least not when it comes to the cold, hard statistical facts.
The Badgers (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) hold teams to a measly 12.7 points per game, which ties Ohio State for third best scoring defense in the nation behind Michigan and Alabama. But Wisconsin outside linebacker Garret Doolely had no idea.
“That’s the first I heard of it right there,” Dooley told Landof10.com after practice Wednesday.
“But I always think the Big Ten has some of the best defenses in the nation,” he added. “There’s a lot of hard-nosed players in this conference that love to play defense. That shows it right there.”
But why and how?
All season, people have attempted to pinpoint the method to the Badgers’ madness. Most players credit their new defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, for tapping into a brilliant scheme. Some talk about being another year older and wiser. And others feel physically stronger. Whatever the reason, it has propelled Wisconsin through one of the program’s best seasons in a decade, eliciting a new question:
Can it become the best in recent Wisconsin history?
It certainly seems possible as the Badgers have already moved through their own ranks. In its media guide, Wisconsin lists the program’s top-ten scoring defenses. So far, this year’s squad has outperformed three of them.
But in order to claim the title of “best team in 10 years” they’ll need to dip down below 12.1 points allowed each game, the mark set in 2006.
As with all of Wisconsin’s defensive success, it’ll be as much of a mental task as a physical one.
“At the end of games, it’s, ‘No touchdown,’ ” Dooley said. “And we enforce that. It doesn’t matter who is in the game, nobody wants to give up any points.”
“No touchdown” is what Dooley tells himself on third and goal when he has to make a stop. It’s what defensive end Chikwe Obasih and inside linebacker T.J. Edwards say in the huddle even when the Badgers are well on their way to a blowout. It represents the pride they take in their game — every snap, every game. It’s what has made them one of the country’s best.
That, and some brutal film sessions.
The standards the Badgers have for themselves are so high, that even having to rewatch the only points Illinois’ scored on them last weekend — a 31-yard field goal — was bothersome.
“It hurts to watch,” Edwards said. “We all take it pretty hard as a team. But it’s also good to see. It’s good to learn you’re not invincible.”
Wisconsin could play up to five more games this season (two in conference, the Big Ten Championship, a bowl game or College Football Playoff semifinal and final), but it’ll need continued defensive success — plus a little love from the CFP selection committee — to do it.
Along the way, the Badgers could go in the books as one of Wisconsin’s best scoring defenses, and will be aided in the next two weeks with games against Purdue and Minnesota to finish its conference schedule.
If the Badgers manage to hold the Boilermakers and Gophers to a combined 17 points or less, they’ll improve their average per game to 12 and pass the 2006 program in scoring defense. According to our writers, that should be just as easily said as it is done against the Boilermakers (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, as the Badgers are a 28-point favorite.
It may be tougher to stay ahead of the 2006 squad, though, as the competition gets fiercer. Assuming the Badgers make the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin’s defense can only surrender 42 points (four games) or 54 points (five games, including CFP title game) from here on out.
Would it be cool statistic to own? Sure. But enough? Not for this proud bunch.
They’d prefer their accolades a bit shinier.
“We want to be the best in the country,” Edwards said. “If you didn’t want to be that, I don’t think you’re a competitor.”