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5 Questions with Bucky's 5th Quarter: Getting to know the Badger defense

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This is the third of a four part series where we exchange five questions with Adam Hoge of SBNation's Bucky's 5th Quarter. Last week we learned about Badger head coach Bret Bielema and this week we'll take a look at what to expect from the Badgers when the Frogs have the ball.  To see the questions I answered for B5Q this week, click here.  Check back next Thursday for the fourth and final installment where we'll take a look at the highly anticipated matchup of the Wisconsin offense and TCU defense.

MWC: All the talk about this Rose Bowl matchup so far has centered around the hulking Wisconsin offensive line and the 3-pronged power rushing attack of John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White and how will TCU's 4-2-5 defense possibly matchup against them.  I grow incredibly weary of this talk as I feel that this game will be won or lost based on who wins the battle on the other side of the ball between the TCU offense and Badger defense.  What kind of scheme do the Badgers employ on defense and what would you say the strengths and weaknesses of this squad are?


B5Q: The Badgers operate out of a simple 4-3 defense and move to a nickel or 3-3-5 on third down passing situations. They call their 3-3-5 scheme the "Badger Package", but I'm not sure how much of it you will see because it lost its effectiveness early in the year when pass-rushing linebacker Chris Borland was lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. Every once in while defensive coordinator Dave Doeren calls for the Badger package, but for the most part you will probably see four linemen on third downs. They love to move guys around on the line and will line up stud defensive end J.J. Watt as a nose tackle to surprise the center.

The biggest weakness of the defense is probably the lack of consistent playmakers. Watt is really the only player who comes up with "wow" moments, but the rest of the group is very smart and efficient. There are still some holes in the secondary at times, but overall, UW's secondary is much improved from 2009 when it was the obvious weakness of the defense.

 
MWC: Who are the top 3 impact players on the Wisconsin defense and who are the players that have to step up their games in order for the Badgers to stop the Frog offense?

B5Q: Watt is far and away the best player on the defense. He was snubbed for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and I thought he had a good case for being a first-team All-American too. He has a constant motor and his combination of size and speed is unmatched by most defensive ends.

Senior stong safety Jay Valai needed the month off before the Rose Bowl more than anyone. He played the last four games of the season with a slightly torn calf muscle. He's the quarterback of the defense and a big hitter.

There are a bunch of guys who could be considered the third impact player and my selection may surprise some Badger fans. I'm going to go with cornerback Antonio Fenelus. Overall, the corners aren't too popular in Madison, but Fenelus has the ability to be a game-changing player. He led the team with four interceptions and 11 pass break ups and he also forced two fumbles and recovered another.

As for guys who need to step up their games in the Rose Bowl, there are a bunch. Most importantly, defensive end Louis Nzegwu needs to have a big game. He was never bad this year, but he was inconsistent and Watt needs to get help from the other side of the line to be effective. Linebacker Mike Taylor is also poised to have a big game. He looked liked a future NFL star in 2009 before tearing his ACL and while he has played all year, he's been limited. Supposedly he is finally at 100 percent and that could be a huge boost for the Badgers.

 
MWC: What mismatches do you see in this matchup and how do you feel they work in favor or work against the Badgers?  What are the keys to the Badger defensive gameplan?

B5Q: I'll take this time to mention that Doeren has already been hired as Northern Illinois' head coach and that will factor into this game somehow and may affect the gameplan. The players love the fact that Doeren decided to stay with the team through the Rose Bowl and I think that will provide some extra motivation to get him one last win with the Badgers. But Doeren's basically been doing two jobs at once for the last two weeks. How will that affect the defensive preparation? Fortunately, a recruiting ban went into effect this week through the bowl game so that should help Doeren keep his mind on the Rose Bowl.

The Badgers run defense has been pretty good this year, but Andy Dalton is going to be able to get some yards through the air in this game. I think he has an edge over UW's secondary, but I also think the Badgers have an edge over TCU's running game. To me, it comes down to takeaways. The Badgers weren't getting a whole lot of takeaways early in the season, but in their last four games they completely turned that around. The keys are obvious: get to the quarterback and force turnovers.

 
MWC: Give me the name of one generally unknown player that could have a breakout game in the Rose Bowl and become a household name in 2011.

B5Q: Not a whole lot of people know about redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jordan Kohout. Nothing on his stat sheet looks all the impressive, but we found out how much he meant to this team when he battled an injury mid-way through the season and UW's pass rush and run defense suffered. He clogs holes and prevents running backs from getting to the second level. I have a feeling he is going to make a big play or two in the Rose Bowl and receive a lot more attention next season.

 
MWC: TCU has an electic playmaker returning punts and kickoffs in human highlight reel, All-American Jeremy Kerley.  How confident are you that the Badgers coverage units can keep him bottled up or should we expect more than a few kicks out of bounds on the 1st?

B5Q: I don't think Badger fans are confident UW can keep any return man bottled up, let alone an All-American. It was a huge problem early in the season when Arizona State and Michigan State found the end zone on returns and then reared its ugly head again in UW's last game against Northwestern. That may have been the best reality check Wisconsin's special teams could have gotten though, because the problem appeared to be fixed. Wisconsin rarely kicks the ball out of bounds because controlling field position is part of UW's gameplan, so Kerley will get his chances. The question is, can Wisconsin get its coverage unit ready with a month of preparation?