Rejuvenated defense ready for second shot at MSU

first_imgLouis Nzegwu has a team high 4.5 sacks this season, one of which he got against Kirk Cousins in a 37-31 loss at Michigan State.[/media-credit]Ask any Badger defenseman about their trip to East Lansing earlier this season and they will mention something about a Hail Mary pass, a safety and a double reverse.While all these plays were major factors in Wisconsin’s demise against Michigan State, another factor was the defense’s inability to get off the field.The Spartans converted on eight of their 16 third down attempts and one fourth down conversion.According to the Badgers, the key to getting off the field on third down is what happens on first and second down.“First down,” sophomore linebacker Chris Borland said. “When they’re second and five, it makes it third and two versus a second and eight makes it third and five. Things like that, especially our performance against the run on first down, [weren’t] as good as [they] could have been.”UW found most of its third down success on third and long, only stopping the Spartans twice when faced with third and five or less.Senior defensive end Louis Nzegwu said he believes everyone just needs to be on point.“Everybody [needs] to be on key,” Nzegwu said. “A lot of people weren’t on the same page. This week we had a lot of emphasis to have no mental errors. We’ve really been focusing on our playbook to make sure that we’ve really got it down to a point. Deep in the season like this, pretty much everybody else is done, but we’re still playing, so we’ve still got that playbook deep in our heads, and we all know what to do now [more] than we did back in the middle of the season.”Defensive coordinate Chris Ash simply wants his defense to execute better, which it has been doing through the final games of the season.“It’s not much to do with what we’ve done differently; we just have to execute better, we just have to tackle better,” Ash said. “Most of the third downs, a couple of them that they would convert, we missed tackles on.”But in order to play better this weekend, the Badgers have to be able to look past their mistakes from the East Lansing tragedy and focus solely on the game ahead of them.Since the back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, head coach Bret Bielema has put his team on a specific calendar where the players had to focus on their daily schedules.No matter what, Nzegwu admitted that the stinging loss will always remain at the back of their minds.“It’s hard not to think about what we did last time,” Nzegwu said. “But you’ve got to just think about the first day and let it go the rest of the week. You can’t let anything drag you on like that, but it is in the back of all our heads. I think during the course of the week, we’ve had improvement in all phases, so we’ll be well prepared to face them again.”But with five games between the loss to MSU and the rematch in the Big Ten Championship game, the Badgers’ defense is not the same defense that allowed so many third down conversions and let the Spartans stay in the game after being down 14-0.In its four wins against Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State, the defense did not allow any second half points after giving up 30 points in the second half to Ohio State.Senior safety Aaron Henry even said he believes the heartbreaking loss was a factor in the defense turning its game around eventually and executing.“I think it’s the fine details,” Henry said. “I think it’s guys playing a whole lot smarter. I think it’s guys flying to the ball every play. Every play matters. I’m not saying every play didn’t matter then, … [but] it was tough, us losing, but it was definitely a point that I’ve taken and it’s grown in me. I think it really helped the whole team.”Ash made it very clear that regardless of everything that has happened over the course of the season, his team is focused and ready to get another shot at Michigan State on neutral turf.“I don’t think anyone’s worried about what’s happened before or what’s happening after,” Ash said. “This team is focused. We’ve got one goal in mind, which is to go down and win a Big Ten Championship. End of story.”last_img

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