4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE WISCONSIN DEFENSE
– The youth movement should pay off. The Badger D will miss a few longtime leaders in LB TJ Edwards and S D’Cota Dixon, and it’ll miss a few other excellent producers, but eight starters are back including six who were underclassmen thrown to the wolves. After a wee bit of a down year for the program defensively, here comes the bounceback.
– The pass defense turned out to be okay considering it didn’t get a lick of help from the pass rush that went from 42 sacks in 2017 to just 17, but at least the secondary is far more experienced and should be stronger overall if the plays in the backfield don’t emerge.
Scott Nelson showed up as a big-hitting – way too much so, at times – safety in his freshman year, Eric Burrell made 42 stops and now will try to replace Dixon, and the corner situation is deep with plenty of options to play around with. This is where having a a former great safety like Jim Leonhard as defensive coordinator matters. Now about that pass rush …
– It has to come from the linebackers in this defensive system, but Zack Baun is more of a good all-around defender on the outside than a hair-on-fire playmaker in the backfield like Andrew Van Ginkel was.
But Baun will do more, and it’ll be up to a relatively untested group on the other side to unearth someone who can help replace Van Ginkel and Ryan Connelly. There’s no replacing TJ Edwards, but the interior will build around Chris Orr, a solid veteran who has been through the wars.
– The secondary should be the best part of the D early on, but the line will eventually be right there. The front three got beaten up a bit against the better running teams, and there isn’t the massive Coke machine in the middle like there usually is, but the end pair of Isaiahh Loudermilk and Matt Henningsen at end and Bryson Williams on the nose will be a sound trio to build around.