Posted by: Opey | August 16, 2007

Badger Football Preseason Preview Part II

Time for a preview of my favorite side of the ball, the defense. Many people who have played football at any level will tell you that they enjoyed playing on the offensive unit more because you got to score and you were often much more of a focus for the attention of the fans/media. I can do without the scoring. There is no greater feeling out on a football field than the one you get when you deliver a huge hit on a ball carrier that forces him in the air and stops the offense’s progress. On that reminiscent note, today it’s time for my preview of the Badger’s defense and it’s also time for my predictions for how the Big Ten season will play out. And without further ado, here we go:

  • Defense
    • Defensive Line: When you think of key starters that the Badgers lost over the summer, often only two big names come up (Stocco and Thomas). There was a big, underappreciated loss from the defensive line though. Joe Monty will no longer be lining up at the DE spot for Bucky this year and that will hurt, but there is still a lot of experience and talent on the line. Both the OL and DL have been traditional strong points of the Wisconsin program and this year is no different. Bucky will line up two juniors, one of which is the talented Matt Shaughnessy, and two seniors to start on the line and Jamal Cooper will be ready to come in at the DE spot as needed. This seems to be a talented unit this year, with depth to spare. Many will point to the linebacking corp as the defensive strength for the Badgers, but the defensive line will give them a run for their money for that designation.
    • Linebackers: If I had to find three words to describe the LB corp this year I would chose speedy, young, and talented. DeAndre Levy and Johnathan Casillas are back for another tour of duty and they will be joined by Elijah Hodge, who will try to replace another key defensive loss, Mark Zalewski. Working behind a great defensive line will only help this talented squad. The line will be able to hold any offensive linemen from reaching the second level, so the LB corp can use their speed to fill any open gaps or reach the outside easily on any pitch or option type runs. This could be the best set of LB the team has had in a while and they all look to be coming back for yet another year next year. Look for them to be able to handle the run effectively and also help out a lot on mid-range pass coverage.
    • Defensive Secondary: The secondary is a story of two different parts. On the one hand you have the talented and experienced corners that will be able to hang with any WR that is thrown at them. Allen Langford and Jack Ikegwuonu will start at the CB position and both of these players have shown more than just the occasional flashes of greatness. On the flipside of the solid CB unit is the unknowns at the safety spots. Sophomores Aubrey Pleasent and Shane Carter look to step in for Joe Stellmacher and Roderick Rodgers, who both had great years. Both Pleasent and Carter were ready to start as Freshman before red shirting. Many point to Carter as a starter in waiting since the day he signed on the dotted line for the Badgers. He has made big play after big play every day at practice, so there is potential for the young safeties to really turn some heads this year.
    • Overall Defensive Predictions: Last years defense was great against the pass, but not so good against the run. Bucky finished 2nd in passing defense and 35th in rushing defense. Scoring defense was another stellar story for the Badgers last year. They managed a 3rd place finish holding teams to just under 12 points per game. On the flipside, the Badgers were outside the top 50 when it came to turnover margin. This year look for many of these rankings to change, mostly for the better. The rush defense should be much improved. The talent on the DL should plug any holes well and free up the linebackers to use their speed to swarm to the ball carrier. Look for the Badgers to rank somewhere in the top 15 in this category. The pass defense may suffer a bit at the beginning of the season due to the loss of experience at the safety position, but look for that to quickly change toward the middle of the season. I see a top 20 ranking in terms of pass defense this year. Scoring defense, as a result of a better pass defense and similar rush defense as last year, should remain fairly steady this year. I can see the team holding opponents to under 15 points a game again this year. The team will need to work on their turnover margin and I believe that with the talent in the secondary this should be possible.
  • Special Teams: There’s not much to say about this unit that people don’t already know. The team returns both K Taylor Melhaff and P Ken DeBauche. Both of these players are highly touted at their position and will provide some major help when the offense needs their services. The biggest addition this year to the special teams units will be the return of Marcus Randle El. His speed and agility will be a great improvement over last years returners and will hopefully provide a spark, and occasionally some points, that can only help a team.
  • Overall Predictions
    • In recent years, the Badgers non-conference schedule featured many games that were considered locks. This year the Badgers start out with two games that will provide a test for this team. Washington State will roll into Camp Randall and play Bucky tough. Many people will overlook UNLV, but they always play the Badgers tough and even managed to beat them at Camp Randall in 2003. The Citadel will be a relatively easy game. Iowa is always a challenge, but they appear to be down this year. The next big challenge comes when the Badgers travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. Many point to the Ohio State or Michigan games as the games to watch out for, but my vote goes to the Penn State game. Generally I never vote for home games as “major” games and Ohio State lost much of their talent on offense. Happy Valley is always tough to play in and Penn State looks to field a very talented team this year. Overall, I don’t see the Badgers going undefeated this year. Bucky has a tough schedule in front of them with some road challenges that could provide the team with some problems. I do see them going 11-1, with their only loss coming in the game against Penn State. That mark should be good enough for at least a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl (I predict Penn State losing two games: @ Michigan and vs Ohio State). Hopefully I’m wrong and they manage to come out of Happy Valley with a win and a chance to play in the BCS title game.
    • Bonus Prediction: I generally don’t predict games that don’t involve my favorite teams, but this year I’ll make an exception. If I had to look around the NCAA and pick a BCS title game matchup right now I would have to go with LSU and Texas. McCoy looks poised to have a breakout season for the Longhorns so they should be able to achieve a great record and with their strong conference schedule their BCS ranking should put them in. LSU lost Russel to the NFL, but they return a great defensive unit and some major talent on offense. LSU always seems to reload quickly each year and, like Texas, their strength of schedule is high, so look for them to have a 1 or 2 ranking in the BCS as well.
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