Wisconsin's 2013 football season is in the books, so it's time to pass out our position grades after the Badgers finished the year 9-4 with a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
We're just about done passing out our season-ending report cards after we reviewed Wisconsin's linebackers yesterday. Today we're moving on to the defensive backs, who had the definition of an up and down season. Our grades for Sojourn Shelton, Dezmen Southward, and the rest are included below.
John Veldhuis: Wisconsin's full-season pass defense statistics look pretty good, but if you dig a little deeper you see a team that really struggled against teams that were actually good at throwing the ball. I'm looking at four games in particular: Arizona State, Ohio State, Indiana and South Carolina. Each of those teams boasted a consistent passing attack, and the Badgers allowed 7.5 yards per attempt between those four games. That's more than a full yard above their season mark of 6.2 yards per attempt, which suggests that the Sun Devils, Buckeyes, Hoosiers and Gamecocks tried to stretch the field and make Wisconsin's secondary earn their keep.
The Badgers also surrendered eight of their 16 passing touchdowns to Ohio State and Arizona State, with four more coming against a Penn State offense that struggled on the road. From a personnel perspective I think the Badgers should be optimistic about Shelton and Michael Caputo, but Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean will need to step up if the Badgers want to shore up their depth in the backfield. Southward was a team leader, but it is hard not to be disappointed in his performance after the coaches talked up his versatility and pass-rushing skills in the preseason.
Jon McNamara: Wisconsin was actually third in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 202.5 yards per game. But the unit was exposed in losses to Ohio State, Penn State and South Carolina, specifically, and only forced nine interceptions, good for 10th in the conference. Sojourn Shelton emerged as the top cornerback and Darius Hillary was dependable. Depth, however, at the position was shaky. Safety Mike Caputo may have had the best season when looking at the entire secondary. And that includes senior Dezmen Southward, who many thought would garner big-time postseason accolades. Tanner McEvoy opened the fall at quarterback but ended up getting significant time at safety. Nate Hammon gained valuable experience in 2013 as well. The unit as a whole must continue to improve under coordinator Dave Aranda.
Jon Gorman: The defensive backs were nothing short of very poor this season. While their play was passable in most games, they failed to show up against teams with even decent passing attacks. Ohio State, Arizona State, Penn State and South Carolina all torched the Badgers defensive secondary, exposing Dezmen Southward, Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean, among others. The brightest spot of the season, by far, was the play of Sojourn Shelton. The true freshman has started on the outside from day one, and quickly became the Badgers' best cover corner. Despite his slight size, he handled himself well against the run as well. He will be an All-Big Ten caliber player before his time at Wisconsin is up. With Southward graduating and Tanner McEvoy moving back to quarterback, look for Nate Hammon to get more snaps at safety next season. He is a player whose role expanded as the season went on, to mixed results. Also look for incoming junior college prospect Serge Trezy to get considerable snaps. Trezy has a tremendous balance of size and speed, and physically looks a lot like Southward.
Zack Miller: In Wisconsin's four losses this season, three times did they allow the opposing team's quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards and in those same three games (Arizona State, Penn State, South Carolina) they yielded 100 yards of receiving to the opposing team's number one wideout. In the Ohio State loss, while there were certainly other factors that played into it, the secondary was clearly the weakest part of the defense. On Ohio State's final possession of the first half, Sojourn Shelton dropped a sure-fire interception and just two plays later Dezmen Southward got beat on a hail mary to allow a Buckeye touchdown as time expired. The worst performance of the season, however, came in the Capital One Bowl where South Carolina's Connor Shaw went 22-for-25 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. One of his three incompletions was because his receiver stepped out of bounds and looking back at the film of the game, I don't recall seeing one passing play where Wisconsin's DBs had their heads turned back to the ball. It was an embarrassing performance for a group that had a lot of promise coming into the season. Expect Dave Aranda and the secondary to use that performance as motivation in the off-season to get better for 2014.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.