Defense struggles in season finale

first_img[media-credit name=”Andy Fate” align=”alignright” width=”336″][/media-credit]There’s nothing more dangerous in sports than a team playing with nothing to lose.The 15th-ranked Wisconsin football team found that out Saturday afternoon when a five-loss Penn State team came to Camp Randall and shattered any BCS hopes that Badger fans were holding on to.The Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) defense has been one of the constants under first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, ranking fifth in the country in scoring. That didn’t deter Penn State (7-5, 5-5) from going right after the Badger defense with its freshman gunslinger Christian Hackenberg.Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions’ offense set the tempo on the first drive, hitting a 68-yard touchdown pass to Adam Breneman on the fourth play of the game. From that play on, the Penn State attack, with head coach and former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien pulling the strings, had its way.“We didn’t really get in a rhythm on the first play or the first series, from that long touchdown on,” senior linebacker Chris Borland said.Wisconsin’s secondary would have to make do without its second leading tackler and redshirt sophomore safety Michael Caputo who was ruled out with a head injury. Redshirt freshman Nate Hammon was charged with the duty of filling in for Caputo.“Michael is a huge loss for our defense, used in every package,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said. “We’re going to take all the precautions with the kids to make sure that we’re making the right decisions, and we’re trying to make the right decisions with him. But it was a major loss to not have Michael out there.”Penn State was on the move again in its second drive, cruising down the field with a 69-yard drive that included a 52-yard catch and run by junior wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Allen Robinson. Leading into the matchup with the Nittany Lions, the Badgers had let up just one play that was more than 50 yards all season and had already given up two to Penn State in the first quarterSenior defensive tackle Beau Allen got the defense back on track with a blocked field goal that led to three straight drives without allowing Penn State on the scoreboard.The Nittany Lions began to run an up-tempo offense to catch the Badgers’ defense off guard and it worked.Wisconsin began to have trouble substituting in and out of different defensive packages, which led to a penalty for 12 men on the field and even a play where only nine players were on the defensive side of the ball for the Badgers.“A lot of the time we were trying to wait until the last second to see what they were going to end up in and the way we had our substitutions, we had a couple of packages in that caused a lot of guys to come in and out,” senior defensive end Tyler Dippel said. “When we are calling plays late, that can happen, but I’m not going to blame anything on that. I think it was just moreso guys trying to get ready fast and the speed of the game.”But confusion was no more evident than on Penn State’s second scoring play when wide receiver Eugene Lewis was left uncovered wide-left that made for an easy pitch and catch from Hackenberg despite Andersen pleading for a timeout on the sideline.Penn State would go on to score three times in its next four possessions, riding the arm of Hackenberg who finished the game with 339 yards through the air and four touchdowns, making Saturday his ninth game with at least 200 passing yards in a game.“He’s a very talented young man,” Andersen said of Hackenberg. “I think their coaches did a great job coaching. Obviously, Coach O’Brien is calling it out there for them now. He calls the whole offense. So he got us to where he wanted us a few times, and we got schemed up pretty good by a very good football coach, and they took advantage of it.”After Wisconsin’s offense was able to claw back into the game with time winding down in the fourth quarter, the onus was back on the defense with less than five minutes left in the game to get the ball back in the hands of offense.With a third-and-9 after a false start call and just more than three minutes on the clock, the defense seemed to be on the verge of redeeming itself for a poor performance for most of the day when Penn State checked to a draw play that went for 61 yards and effectively iced the game.Penn State totaled 465 yards on Wisconsin and averaged eight yards per play while putting up 31 points — 25 more than the Badgers’ six point average at home this season.“It was the worst performance of the season by far, and at the worst time, so it is just terrible. It is disappointing,” Borland said.Wisconsin had not allowed an offensive touchdown since Nov. 9 against BYU, but allowed four — all through the air — to Penn State.It will not get much easier for the Badger defense as nine seniors that saw a lot of time on the field for the defensive squad will be gone after the bowl game, but the young players are ready to build off of their performance this season.“As a defense we strive to be great, before this we were one of the best defenses in the country and I think we still are,” freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “Things can be corrected. From here on out I can guarantee a lot of these players will bust their butts and make sure that whatever was incorrect is corrected.”last_img read more

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