Outlook is overwhelmingly positive for Badgers' D-line

BY foxsports • July 30, 2013

This is the sixth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Wisconsin football team's Aug. 5 start of practice.

Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8

Projected starter(s): Beau Allen (senior), Ethan Hemer (redshirt senior), Pat Muldoon (redshirt senior)

Key backups: James Adeyanju (redshirt sophomore), Tyler Dippel (redshirt senior), Bryce Gilbert (redshirt junior), Jesse Hayes (redshirt sophomore), Warren Herring (redshirt junior), Alec James (freshman), Josh Harrison (redshirt junior), Jake Keefer (redshirt sophomore), Chikwe Obasih (freshman), Konrad Zagzebski (redshirt junior)

The breakdown: There has been much talk about new Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and his desire to switch Wisconsin from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. At this point, some of the position breakdowns aren't entirely known because we don't know how often Aranda will use each defensive scheme. For example, Brenden Kelly played as a defensive end last year, but he would drop back as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Of course, he also could be placed up front if Aranda uses a 4-3 at times.

What we do know is that Aranda has experienced a great deal of success with a 3-4 in previous stops at Utah State and Hawaii. Last season, Utah State ranked 14th nationally in total defense, allowing 322 yards per game -- sandwiched right between Michigan and Wisconsin on the list. The Aggies also ranked No. 7 in scoring defense, 13th in rushing defense and tied for sixth in sacks per game. While defensive coordinator at Hawaii in 2010, Aranda's defense led the country in turnovers forced (38) and set a school record by scoring five defensive touchdowns.

We're assuming Ethan Hemer and Pat Muldoon will start as defensive ends, while Beau Allen will serve as the nose guard. Last season, Allen recorded 37 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He has appeared in 41 games and started all 14 games a year ago.

Hemer also has appeared in 41 games but has started 34 times. He's coming off a season in which he tallied 24 tackles and a sack. Muldoon, meanwhile, has played in 36 games with eight starts. Last season, he recorded 15 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Together, all three have about as much game experience as you could hope for from a defensive line.

The biggest change Wisconsin fans and players surely hope a new scheme will bring is more turnovers. Last season, Wisconsin tied for 105th in the country with just 15 turnovers forced. To understand just how poor of a number that represents, consider that the 15 other FBS programs to force 15 or fewer turnovers last season finished with a combined record of 51-131 (.280 winning percentage). Only two of those 15 teams -- Ball State and Texas Tech -- reached a bowl game.

A 3-4 defense should provide more opportunities to force turnovers because a quarterback can face unexpected pressure on any play in that scheme. A 4-3 base defense declares four rushers. In a 3-4, the quarterback doesn't know where the fourth rusher is coming from. As a result, the quarterback also has a more difficult time recognizing which players are dropping into coverage, which can create a higher rate of interceptions.

Best position battle: Wisconsin has so much depth on the defensive line that it will be interesting to see how all the linemen are used. Warren Herring (13 tackles last season), Tyler Dippel (20 tackles, five sacks), Bryce Gilbert (10 tackles) and Konrad Zagzebski (four tackles) all played last season and should rotate into the line on game days.

There are 16 players listed as defensive linemen, including freshmen Chikwe Obasih and Alec James. They may wind up taking redshirt seasons given the depth in front of them, but the future is certainly bright for Wisconsin's defensive line.

Best of the Big Ten: 1. Ohio State; 2. Wisconsin; 3. Michigan State

Ohio State lost all four of its defensive starters up front, but it just goes to show the quality of depth the Buckeyes have that they're still considered the best at this position group. Noah Spence (12 tackles), Adolphus Washington (nine tackles) and Tommy Schutt (four tackles) are each sophomores. Michael Bennett (11 tackles) and Joel Hale (six tackles) should start at the tackle positions and help make Ohio State one of the toughest defensive lines in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin can't be forgotten on this list, particularly because of the experience factor the Badgers have up front. Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and Pat Muldoon have combined to play in 118 games with 56 starts. That's an awful lot of games, and that knowledge should make the Badgers quite tough.

Michigan State loses William Gholston, but tackles Tyler Hoover (13 tackles) and James Kittridge (14 tackles) are stout. The Spartans also ranked tops in the Big Ten last season by surrendering 98.6 yards rushing per game.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda says: "I'm a big advocate of attacking protections. We did it a lot at Utah State for four years. That's one of the beauties of the 3-4. Who is the fourth guy? Where is he coming from? You're able to morph yourself into a defense that attacks the protection and blocking scheme ...

"We want to get tackles for losses. We want to get sacks. We want to get rips at the ball. Strips at the ball. Bats at the ball. And we want to get picks. And we want to score touchdowns on defense."

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