MADISON, Wis. — Being a fifth-year senior and all, Marcus Trotter has a pretty good handle on the pulse of Wisconsin’s football fan base. So he was well aware of the general perception out there before this season concerning the Badgers’ defense.
"Everyone was kind of scared because there were a lot of people that weren’t veterans, so to speak," Trotter said. "Not a lot of playing time."
Perhaps by now, that general perception has changed.
Given the circumstances, Wisconsin put together its most dominant defensive performance of the season during a 52-7 victory against Maryland on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers shut out the Terrapins until the final possession, when starters were out of the game.
Wisconsin is allowing 16.1 points per game, 106.7 rushing yards, 163.4 passing yards and 270.1 total yards — all numbers that figure to keep the Badgers among the top 20 in the country.
On Saturday, Wisconsin surrendered 175 total yards — its fewest against a Big Ten opponent since Minnesota tallied 156 yards in 2011. Maryland tallied only 46 rushing yards and was held to 10 first downs.
"There’s no limits," Trotter said. "We have so many playmakers. . . . We have a lot of athletic guys who love making plays and coach (Dave) Aranda always puts us in the right position. I’m excited to see the next game and the game after that what we’re going to do."
Wisconsin opened the season with seven new starters on its front seven, although that was not indicative of the experience level of some players. Trotter, for example, had played in 14 games. Fellow linebacker Derek Landisch had appeared in 38 games with three career starts. But the linebacker combination of Trotter, Landisch, Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel has proven to be stellar. On Saturday, the four combined for 21 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery.
Maryland had not scored fewer than 24 points in a game before Saturday. But the Terrapins’ quick-pace, option offense faltered from the outset. Maryland’s offense went three-and-out eight times in the game.
"We can be one of the best in the country," said Badgers nose guard Warren Herring, who returned to his starting position for the first time since sustaining a knee injury in the season opener against LSU. "That’s what we aim for every year, and it’s one of our goals to be the best defense in the country. We are continuing to get better every week. We pride ourselves on that."
Fake punt: One of the more thrilling moments of Saturday’s game came when Badgers punter Drew Meyer connected with tight end Troy Fumagalli on a fake punt pass for 17 yards that kept a drive alive in the first quarter. Wisconsin would eventually kick a field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
Wisconsin faced a fourth-and-9 at the Maryland 36, and Meyer handled the snap and began running toward the line of scrimmage. Before crossing, however, he leaped to pass on top of the defense and found Fumagalli over the middle.
"It was planned," Meyer said. "It was part of it just to kind of sell it, then get over the top to make sure you’re not going through traffic. It just worked out great. All week we were thinking Steve Nash, kind of shooting a nice little floater."
Quarterback punt: If Meyer’s rousing fake punt wasn’t enough from Saturday’s game, Wisconsin added a new wrinkle in which third-string quarterback Bart Houston punted instead of Meyer on one occasion.
Wisconsin led 24-0 in the second quarter and faced a fourth-and-15 from its own 13-yard line, when Houston trotted out to punt. He took the snap, rolled to his right and boomed a low rugby-style line drive. The kick rolled past midfield and stopped for a 52-yard punt, the first of his college career.
Houston has stayed after practice in recent weeks to punt, and Fumagalli informed special teams coach Jeff Genyk of his kicking prowess. During Wisconsin’s bye week, Houston showed his skills, and the coaching staff inserted a play for him nine days before the Maryland game.
"On Thursday of the bye week, I learned what a rugby punt was," Houston said. "Once it came off the foot, it came off the toe and high on the ball, it was going to be a low one. I was afraid it was going to hit the blockers or the shield. But I found the seam in between them, and it just kept rolling."
Badgers coach Gary Andersen said the team would continue to use Houston in potential rugby-style punting situations.
"I think it will help us," Andersen said. "Anything you can do to cause people to practice a little bit more, cause a little bit more issues for them as they prepare for you, and then on game day, it’s a positive."
Houston also handled the final two snaps of the game under center at quarterback. This season, he has completed 1 of 3 passes for six yards with a touchdown.