Expect the Badgers to get defensive in 2012

Expect the Badgers to get defensive in 2012

Published Jun. 23, 2012 12:30 p.m. ET

MADISON, Wis. — When people reflect on Wisconsin's marvelous 2011
football season years from now, any number of fond memories are sure to
rattle through the mind.

Consider Russell Wilson's one-year
showcase at quarterback or Montee Ball's run to a Heisman Trophy
finalist as once-in-a-generation individual performances. Take an
inaugural Big Ten championship victory and a Rose Bowl appearance as
significant team achievements in a season that saw
school-record-breaking offensive numbers.

What people aren't
likely to remember fondly, however, is anything the Badgers' defense
accomplished. Much like the case of a hockey goalie, fans and pundits
don't often recall the hundreds of saves during the season. Instead,
they snivel at the few major gaffes that can be counted on one hand.

Wisconsin's defense will forever be held responsible for allowing a
last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to Michigan State that crushed the
Badgers' national title hopes. A last-minute secondary blunder that
resulted in a touchdown pass for Ohio State one week later only added to
fans' misery. So did surrendering six touchdowns to Oregon in a 45-38
Rose Bowl loss.

Those three moments will stick in the craw for
years, overshadowing an otherwise brilliant season. And whether it's
fair or not, the 2011 Badgers defense will be remembered as the
liability to a spectacular offense that averaged a school-record 44.1
points per game — the sixth-best mark in the nation.

But with the
offense facing transition under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada
and new quarterback Danny O'Brien, don't be surprised to see a role
reversal in 2012. Wisconsin's defense — with all 11 projected starters
as upperclassmen — should serve as the team's steadying force in a quest
for a third straight Big Ten title.

Let's start on the defensive
line, where projected starters Brendan Kelly, Beau Allen and Ethan
Hemer each played in all 14 games last season. Allen was second on the
team in sacks with four, while Kelly contributed three and two forced
fumbles. Defensive end David Gilbert is expected back after missing most
of last season with a broken foot. In just four games, he registered
three sacks and could serve as the primary playmaker the Badgers lacked
last year.

At linebacker, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland ranked
1-2 in the Big Ten in total tackles last season. The duo combined to
make an astounding 293 tackles. Ethan Armstrong, who is expected to be
the Badgers' third linebacker, played in 12 games a year ago.

the biggest question mark surrounding last year's team was
inconsistency in the secondary. But Wisconsin shouldn't have the same
issues in 2012.

Senior Devin Smith could be the shutdown
cornerback the Badgers desperately needed last season. Smith played in
just two games, which forced Marcus Cromartie into the starting
cornerback role. After taking his lumps a year ago, Cromartie now
returns with starting experience alongside Smith.

Southward and Shelton Johnson will serve as Wisconsin's two safeties.
Johnson tied for the team lead with four interceptions a year ago and
was fourth in total tackles with 54. The athletically gifted Southward
played in 13 games a year ago with 35 total tackles and two forced

Despite two monumental last-minute gaffes and a clunker
against Oregon, Wisconsin's defense wasn't all that bad last season. The
Badgers surrendered 19.1 points per game, which ranked No. 13 in
scoring defense nationally. Wisconsin also ranked fourth in the country
in passing defense, allowing 163.6 yards per game.

Wisconsin's experience defensively, those numbers should improve. So
should the rushing defense, which allowed 152.8 yards per game and
ranked 60th.

No, the offense might not be as prolific, but the
defense could carry Wisconsin in its toughest conference games against
Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. If so, expect to see the
Badgers vying for a Big Ten title yet again.

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