2013 Wisconsin Preview – Defense

Posted May 16, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Wisconsin Badger Defense

Wisconsin Badgers

Preview 2013 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The six-loss season dimmed the strong season by a Badger defense that finished 15th in the nation, was great against the run, and 18th against the pass. It's not like the D faced a who's who of offensive juggernauts, but overall it was still a great year allowing more than 21 points just four times. It was good, but the new coaching staff is going to tinker to try making it better with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda switching things up to a 3-4. The result should be a brick wall of a front three with nose tackle Beau Allen anchoring a big, strong front. Chris Borland is back as part of a deep and talented linebacking corps that will get by just fine without Mike Taylor, while several great new replacements appear ready to step in and shine with three starters gone from the secondary.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chris Borland, 104
Sacks: Tyler Dippel & Brendan Kelly, 5
Interceptions: Ethan Armstrong, Conor O'Neill, Dezmen Southward, 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Chris Borland
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Darius Hillary
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman LB Vince Biegel
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Beau Allen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Borland, 2) S Dezmen Southward, 3) LB/DE Brendan Kelly
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Proven Secondary, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

It flew under the radar last season, but the Badger defensive line was really, really good at times. Now it should be even stronger with the move to a 3-4 alignment meaning more depth and options for the three spots. Everything will work around 6-3, 335-pound senior Beau Allen, a huge interior presence who's perfect for the new job on the nose. Very strong, very experienced and very tough to get around, he held down a starting job throughout last season on the interior making 37 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Not just a block of granite, he can move a little bit for his size and get into the backfield. When the line needs a little more athleticism on the nose, 6-3, 278-pound junior Warren Herring will step in after doing a decent job last season in the rotation making 13 tackles. More of a 4-3, five-technique tackle than a pure anchor, he'll bring a different dimension to the position.

6-3, 258-pound senior Pat Muldoon is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten performer off the field and a decent spot starter throughout the last few years on it. He came up with 16 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in his 11 games, but with his high motor and good quickness, he can do far more. He's a pass rushing prospect who'll have to hold up against the run, while 6-3, 263-pound junior Konrad Zagzebski will bring a bit more size. Built for the 3-4, he should do a decent job against the run, but he needs to be more productive after coming up with just four tackles last season.

At 6-6 and 319 pounds, senior Ethan Hemer is more like a true tackle than a pass rushing end, but the former walk-on has fantastic quickness off the ball and is a proven producer making 24 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Consistent, big and tough to throw over, he'll work in a variety of ways in the new system. Adding more of an interior pass rushing element will be 6-3, 249-pound sophomore Jake Keefer, a star defensive end recruit who could be moved to outside linebacker if needed. He made two tackles in his limited time, but with tremendous athleticism and burst, he should quickly become a factor with a bit more work.

Watch Out For … Chikwe Obasih, who might have a future at outside linebacker even though he's more of a hand-on-the-ground defensive end. A tackling machine who's phenomenal at getting behind the line, he doesn't miss a stop and should be strong enough to handle the work as a 3-4 end once he adds a few pounds of muscle.
Strength: Run defense. The old system wasn't all that bad against the run, allowing more than 200 yards in both games against Nebraska and more than 175 against Stanford. That was it, while giving up just eight rushing scores in the regular season. The front three should be even tougher under the new coaching staff.
Weakness: Pass rushing ends. The pass rush was good at times, non-existent in other key situations, and now the job of getting to the quarterback will fall to the outside linebackers more than the ends. The Badgers have good interior pass rushers, but they don't have a killer up front who has to be accounted for.
Outlook: The defensive line should be fantastic against the run. Gary Andersen's Utah State team didn't allow much of anything last year – giving up just 156 rushing yards to the Badgers and getting into the backfield time and again – and now he has far more talent to work with. The results should be fantastic.
Unit Rating: 7.5


In the new 3-4 alignment, senior Brendan Kelly will go from being a true defensive end to more of a hybrid outside linebacker. The team's best pass rusher followed up a three-sack 2011 with five sacks and six tackles for loss to go along with 28 tackles. Staying healthy has been a problem over the years, missing three games last season and having a hand issue a few seasons ago, but the 6-6, 258-pounder is smart, tough and active enough to have a big final year. A great recruit in 2008, the tools are there to flourish with the new responsibilities. He'll be backed up by fellow pass rusher Tyler Dippel, who followed up a 27-tackle season with 20 tackle and five sacks. The 6-4, 262-pounder has good quickness and a great motor, and he should put up nice numbers as a situational pass rusher.

With Mike Taylor gone, the star of the linebacking corps should be senior Chris Borland, an First Team All-Big Ten performer making 104 stops with 4.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss with three forced fumbles. At 5-11 and 242 pounds he has great size and terrific instincts; he's a guided missile of a playmaker going 100 miles per hour on every play. A cult hero in his first season, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors as a pass rushing machine with five forced fumbles, he's well past a shoulder injury that turned into a problem a few years ago, and now he should be the tone-setting leader of a strong front seven.

Borland might be the star, but senior Ethan Armstrong is a statistical monster who'll be all over the field. While he's only 6-2 and 195 pounds, he's a strong tackler on the inside with the speed and motor to get all over the field making 93 tackles. Now he'll be used as more of a pass rusher, while 6-3, 225-pound redshirt freshman Vince Biegel will get a starting spot and should be one of the team's top tacklers right away after missing almost all of last year with a broken foot. A great outside linebacker recruit last season, he's great in pass coverage and active enough to grow into a dangerous pass rusher. He'll be an all-star before he's done.

While Borland is a force and Armstrong a strong starter, somewhere in the interior will be senior Conor O'Neill, an active and experienced veteran who can play anywhere in the linebacking corps but will likely work more in the middle or the inside. He came up with 15 tackles last season with a 53-yard interception return against Indiana.

Watch Out For … Garret Dooley, a prospect for the inside who came up with 32 rushing scores as a high school senior and 34 catches to go along with 132 tackles and 14.5 sacks. While he's only 215 pounds, he has room to add several pounds on his 6-2 frame to hold up a bit better.
Strength: Potentially, the pass rush from the outside. With Kelly and Dippel moving to more of an outside linebacker role, and with Armstrong likely to get more work as a pass rusher. Borland will produce big plays no matter where he is.
Weakness: Raw athleticism. It's a constant problem for the Badger linebacking corps. It'll be a deep group of linebackers for the four spots, but there aren't many blazers with great speed. The Badgers have tacklers, but they'll have problems with the faster backfields.
Outlook: This could be an interesting crew and the experience should work. Losing the 123 tackles and leadership of Mike Taylor might hurt, but Biegel looks like a keeper and Kelly and Dippel could turn into terrors with a little more room to move. Borland will be an all-star to tie it all together.
Unit Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

The secondary has good prospects, but it needs more experience with three key starters gone. However, free safety Dezmen Southward is back after starting all 14 games finishing fourth on the team with 69 tackles with a picks and eight tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 213 pounds, the Florida native is a very smart, very strong defender with excellent athleticism and all-star skills. He'll be the leader of the defensive backfield, while 6-0, 177-pound strong safety Reggie Mitchell looked like a growing talent after a great offseason, but he decided to transfer to Pitt this offseason leaving a huge hole.  That means junior Michael Trotter needs to rise up and show he can handle the work after getting three starts, and while he has decent 6-0, 209-pound size, he doesn't have Mitchell's athleticism.

The combination of sophomore Darius Hillary and freshman Sojourn Shelton will fill in at one of the starting corner jobs. The 5-11, 190-pound Hillary came up with 23 tackles with two broken up passes, and now he should be ready to shine in a bigger role. Shelton is a true freshman out of Fort Lauderdale with the upside to be the team's No. 1 cover-corner sooner than later. While he's only 5-9 and 175 pounds, he's extremely quick and could become a punt returner.

5-11, 190-pound junior Peniel Jean will grab the other starting corner back spot after making just one tackle with a broken up pass in his five games of work. A great recruit three years ago, the two-time Academic All-Big Ten performer missed most of the year with a broken foot, but he's back and healthy as a dangerous option with great deep speed to go along with his smarts.

Watch Out For … Jakkarie Washington and Keelon Brookins. While Shelton is looking like a potential star, Washington and Brookins were considered the better cornerback recruits. The 5-10, 170-pound Washington was a dangerous offensive star in high school, but his speed and quickness should translate better to the secondary, while the 5-11, 185-pound Brookins should be one of the team's fastest players with track star wheels – the St. Paul native was a great get for the program.
Strength: The new guys. Losing three starters is never a plus, but the Badgers have good replacements ready to shine. The healthy Jean should make a big difference.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Badgers came up with just eight on the year with two in blowout wins over Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska. That means the defense came up with just two picks in the other 11 games – blowout wins over Illinois and Purdue. The secondary has to start coming through with bigger plays.
Outlook: The turnover shouldn't be much of a problem with a little bit of time, but depth will be an issue. Devin Smith came up with four of the team's picks at one corner, and Marcus Cromartie broke up 12 passes on the other side, but the defensive backfield has several promising prospects. As long as the pass rush does its job in the new 3-4 alignment, the secondary will be fine with a little bit of time.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Junior Kyle French came up with a decent year, but not a great one, hitting 10-of-16 field goals with a block. While he has a good leg, his skills are from inside the 40, connecting on a 46-yarder against Illinois but nailing just 2-of-6 shots from beyond 39 yards. Things went south late, though, missing his last three field goal attempts after the Indiana game, failing to connect from 40 against Ohio State, 44 against Penn State and 45 against Nebraska. Sophomore Jack Russell went 0-2 on his two attempts, but he was used on PATs nailing 14-of-15.

Sophomore punter Drew Meyer came up with a whopper of a first year. While the 41.5 yard average was just okay, the 36 kicks put inside the 20 were terrific. He didn't get enough credit for bailing out the inconsistent offense time and again.

Star receiver Jared Abbrederis continues to be a good punt returner. While he didn't come up with the 15.8-yard average he ripped off two years ago, averaging just 6.5 yards per try, he's still dangerous. Running back Melvin Gordon averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return, while Kenzel Doe was more dangerous averaging 27.9 yards per try and 12.4 yards per punt return with a touchdown.

Watch Out For … Doe. While Abbrederis is firmly established as the punt returner, and Gordon is proven on kickoffs, Doe was better in both areas. He'll get his chances.
Strength: Coverage teams. The punt coverage team allowed a 68-yard punt return for a score and still only gave up 6.4 yards per try thanks to a great year from Meyer. The Badgers only allowed 19.5 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Consistent placekicking. French was okay, but not great. He had a nice stretch of makes in the middle of the season, but the problems from midrange at the end of the year were a problem. He'll have to prove himself all over again.
Outlook: If the coverage teams and return games are solid again, and the special teams should be a positive. They likely won't be the best in the Big Ten, but there won't be any weak spots. Abbrederis, Gordon and Doe will be great, and Meyer should be an all-star, but the key will be French, who has to be more consistent and better from deep.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2013 Wisconsin Preview | 2013 Wisconsin Offense
- 2013 Wisconsin Defense | 2013 Wisconsin Depth Chart