UW defense lives up to preseason hype
Those questions can officially be put on hold for now.
Of the six defensive takeaways UW forced coming into Saturday, Carter had four of them, all interceptions. But the Hoosiers coughed the ball up five times, and the Badger safety wasn’t even involved in any of them.
“Once one guy does it, we all want to do it,” cornerback Allen Langford said. “We all want to make a play, we all want to go out and compete.”
First, late in the first quarter, linebacker Jonathan Casillas knocked the ball out of the hands of Indiana back Josiah Sears, and UW defensive tackle Nick Hayden fell on it.
The Badgers thought they had another fumble recovery and long return by Aaron Henry, but replays showed Hoosier sophomore quarterback Kellen Lewis was down by contact at the end of his 13-yard carry.
But the Badger defense wasn’t done. In the third quarter, Lewis was hurried out of the pocket near Indiana’s goal line, and fluttered a pass toward the sidelines—into the waiting arms of Langford.
And on the next drive, Hayden recovered his second fumble when two-time all-Big Ten receiver James Hardy was stripped by safety Kim Royston.
Later, Lewis rattled off some consecutive rushing first downs but made a crucial mistake, losing the ball inside the red zone. Cornerback Aaron Henry stripped it, and linebacker DeAndre Levy gobbled it up.
Finally, cornerback Josh Nettles pulled down his first career pick when Lewis threw up a desperation throw in the waning seconds.
“This week … I talked to our defense about attacking the football,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “Any time somebody has the ball in their hands, we need to attack the football, and that was a big factor.”
Brown gets on the board
Of its many traditions, Wisconsin has a renowned reputation of talented running backs, and having great depth at all positions (something the Badgers call ‘next man in’).
Zach Brown had an opportunity to show off both against the Hoosiers. With starting tailback P.J. Hill hobbled with an ankle injury, Brown was sent in to carry the load for Wisconsin, and answered the bell with 14 carries and 40 yards for a touchdown.
“(He did a) tremendous job,” Bielema said. “The last month, he’s really settled into it. He’s always doing anything he can to gain an advantage, and the way he handled the game today … speaks volumes for him in the future.”
Back-to-back first-down receptions by Kyle Jefferson and Travis Beckum set up Brown’s defining moment of the game; a 6-yard touchdown run, the first of his career that put Wisconsin up 17-0.
“It was great, being able to come in and contribute,” Brown said. “It felt good, you always dream about playing college football and getting that touchdown.”
Hill was declared out with a ‘lower leg injury’ and left the game in the first quarter after scoring a touchdown from one yard out. He finished with 12 carries for 57 yards.
Bielema said X-rays were negative, and it was a coach’s decision to hold Hill out in the second half.
Mehlhaff’s bank shot
Kicker Taylor Mehlhaff has been “money”—as UW head coach Bret Bielema puts it—all season long.
Mehlhaff was even lucky enough to get a little help from the right goalpost on his first field goal attempt of the game Saturday. The fifth-year senior shanked a 41-yard attempt, as the ball sliced through the air before dinking off the post and in.
“I just looked up and said somebody upstairs was helping me out,” Mehlhaff joked. “I was just kind of relieved it went in, I thought it was going to hook wide.”
Mehlhaff righted himself in the fourth quarter, nailing a 39-yard attempt to make the score 27-3. He did miss his first extra-point attempt of the season when UW scored a garbage-time touchdown.