Vince Biegel

Is this the best Wisconsin Badgers defense of all-time?

Week after week the Wisconsin Badgers defense seems to do something special. Whether it’s shutting an opponent out, holding them to under 100 yards rushing or a myriad of other things — it’s always something new and different each week.

After helping out in a big way in the win over Nebraska it got us wondering just how good this Badgers defense really is. We know that this season things are looking good on the statistical front, with UW ranking in the top 5 nationally of all four major categories (total, scoring, passing and rushing defense). What has become a bigger question is just how good is this defense when you compare it to other Badger defenses.

Statistically speaking, the research suggests that the 2014 Badgers defense could indeed be the best we’ve seen in recent memory, but it has some serious competition for the best of all-time.

Let’s take a look at where this group stacks up against the defenses for the last seven years, shall we?

Year
National Rank
Yardage
20141st244.0
20137th305.1
201215th322.6
201115th316.3
201020th321.8
200917th305.7
200837th329.1

As CFBstats.com only goes back to 2008 in their research, we also were curious to see how this group would stack up for an entire decade of UW defenses. Guess what? Just like the numbers show this defense to be the best in total D through 2008; going back a decade also reveals this group to be the best in total defense as well. The only group close to this one is the 2006 Badger defense that gave up 253.1 yards per game.

That means with two games left, Wisconsin has a great opportunity to be the best of this generation in total defense.

Next up is perhaps the most important stat — scoring defense.

Year
National Rank
Points Per Game
20143rd15.3
20136th16.3
201216th19.1
201113th19.0
201025th20.5
200933rd21.8
200866th26.5

Once again, we see Wisconsin’s defense besting every other version of itself since 2008. However, going back a decade, it’s that 2006 defense that stands out. It’s the only one better in holding opponents off the scoreboard, as UW only gave up 12.1 points per game that season. That 2006 defense also was the last one to pitch a shutout for Wisconsin, but it did so against a much different schedule and also had five games where it held opponents under 10 points per game. Compare that to this year, where the Badgers have held opponents under 10 points just three times.

Where this 2014 team has its biggest advantage comes against the pass of all things.

Year
National Ranking
Yards Allowed
20143rd147.3
201317th202.5
201218th193.6
20114th163.6
201026th193.9
200956th217.5
200844th195.8

I mean, that’s not even close over the past seven years. There would need to be an average of 20 more yards given up a game for any other year to top this one. However, the biggest of the pass defense advantages comes from UW’s ability to hold opponents out of the end zone.

Wisconsin has given up just eight passing touchdowns this season, a number that is nearly half the lowest total over the last seven years. The next closest total happens to be 2011, when Wisconsin gave up 15 touchdowns. Given the possibility of four more games and only one decent passing offense ahead, UW has a realistic chance to have the lowest amount of passing TDs since giving up six in 2006.

Over on the rushing defense side, things are very solid for the 2014 defense as well.

Year
National Ranking
Yards Per Game
20145th96.7
20135th100.7
201225th128.9
201160th152.6
201026th127.8
20095th88.2
200844th133.3

This is the first time where we see another of the seven seasons be better than what UW is doing this season. However, it has yet to be seen if they could hold on to the No. 2 spot over the last seven years, as they have a tough matchup against Minnesota’s big rushing attack and a potentially tricky Ohio State matchup in the Big Ten championship game (should they get there).

The raw stats are nice, but digging just beyond yards and points is important as well. It’s that analysis that shows the Badgers defense of today is much different than the ones in the past. One look at stats like sacks and tackles for loss tell a huge story for why this defense has a chance to be the best of at least the last decade, if not of all-time at UW.

Andersen and Aranda’s defense has racked up 32 sacks through 10 games, a total that is second in the past decade (over an entire season) to 2009’s total of 37. With at least three games left, it’s highly likely that number gets topped.

Then there are the tackles for loss that this defense has created. So far this year the Badgers have 71, which puts them 25th in the nation this season. That total is fourth in the last seven years, but just seven away from the top three. The ranking of 25th nationally is the second best this team has in that category over the past seven years.

photo courtesy Madison.com

photo courtesy Madison.com

Numbers only happen because of players, and its tough to point to a more productive or attacking group of linebackers in Wisconsin history. Vince Biegel, Derek Landisch, Joe Schobert and Marcus Trotter have combined for 41 of the Badgers 71 tackles for loss this season, with the group ranking first through fourth in the category for Wisconsin.

It’s something that hasn’t been lost of Andersen, who praised the groups ability to take what is being taught in film study and on practice field and apply it on the football field.

“They were very youthful when we started the season,” said Andersen on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “My biggest concern was their ability to handle it mentally throughout the season in a fairly complicated defense. Being able to take it from the meeting room and apply it to the practice field and into the game field.

“They’ve been over the top as far as my expectation level for those kids in that area, especially. They had the athleticism. That’s been great. But to take it out there on the field, they’ve done just a tremendous job. That’s a credit to them as young men and their preparation and also a credit to their coaches.”

With the Badgers defense taking what it learns and applying it on the field, I’m showing the team what’s in front of it if they continue to play well. If I’m Gary Andersen, this team will know that it’s hard work is paying off, and that further hard work could have them in a very special place for this season and in the annuals of the program.

It’s important to keep things fresh and find new motivations as the season goes along, so why not put that target out there as a way to tell the Badgers defense of today just how good it can be in the history of this program.

As for the question of best all-time? It’s hard to ignore just how good that 2006 defense was. Let’s remember the only loss that season was a 27-13 loss at Michigan — a team who competed for the national title right down to its loss to Ohio State at the end of the season that year.

If this defense wants to top it, being the catalyst to a Big Ten title would certainly go a long way. It just so happens that that goal still is right in front of them. Go out and get it, and then maybe we’ll talk about best Badger D of all-time.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college football for nearly half a decade. He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadgers.com and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com

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