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September 25, 2013

Defense needs to find right balance





MADISON, Wis. - The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 21-14 in overtime last season, but the Badgers held on to a silver lining after the game. For the most part, the Badgers were able to hold Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller in check.

The Badgers allowed Miller to complete 10-of-18 passes for 97 yards, and didn't allow the then-sophomore signal caller to throw a touchdown pass in the game. But what's more important, from a schematic standpoint, is that the Badgers held Miller to just 48 rushing yards on 23 carries. Miller picked up 1,271 rushing yards on the season, good enough to average about 106 rushing yards per game.

But now the challenging part for the Badgers is to do it again. And with a new defensive scheme in place, the Badgers need to find a way to balance their new mentality with their desire to contain Miller for a second time.

"We just have to play with a contain mindset, but we can't pass-rush scared," defensive lineman Ethan Hemer said after practice Wednesday. "We do need to be able to create some kind of pressure on [Miller], but realize he is going to make some plays, and then make some plays ourselves."

Last year the Badgers dialed up extra pressure on Miller by subbing out larger defensive linemen for smaller, quicker defensive ends and linebackers. That extra athleticism allowed the Badgers to catch up to Miller if he broke out of the pocket, but Hemer said that package isn't really an option in their new defense. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said his existing defensive line will be front and center this week, which puts more pressure on the defense as a whole to be aggressive but disciplined against the Buckeyes.

But as linebacker Ethan Armstrong pointed out, maintaining assignments against a quarterback like Miller is easier said than done.

"Mentally it's difficult when you have a bunch of different calls in, and then physically when you have to do it on the field, it's two totally different things," Armstrong said Wednesday.

The Badgers also know that even if they execute perfectly, Miller's athleticism will allow him to make some big plays every now and then. Aranda said one of the best things they can do is try and force the Buckeyes in to long passing downs, whether by keeping their gains on the ground to a minimum or making plays in the backfield.

"If we can get them to third and six-to-twelve, then there need to be enough change ups where they don't know what's coming, who's blitzing, who's dropping," Aranda said. "Within all that we have to be able to contain the quarterback. When he's in the pocket- that's our advantage. When he's on the move nothing good happens."

And above all else, the Badgers need to find the right balance between blitzing and containing without losing the new edge that Aranda brought to he team with his 3-4 defense.

"We definitely can't let it take away from our identity as a defense, to be an aggressive, attacking defense," Armstrong said. "We've got to understand that we've got to execute what we have to do, but we want to play with our freaking hair on fire. I don't think that will take away from what we're going to do, we just have to do it the right way."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.



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