It doesn’t get much better for the University of Wisconsin defense than last week’s win over Iowa.
The Badgers allowed the second-fewest yards (66) in program history during the modern era (since 1946), and while some of Iowa’s shortcomings were self-inflicted, it’d be difficult to argue that wasn’t UW’s best defensive performance in recent memory.
The front often applied pressure on quarterback Nate Stanley with just four rushers, and even when that failed, the secondary locked down Iowa’s pass-catchers. The Badgers’ defensive line won at the line of scrimmage, and their linebackers made plays all over the field in the run game.
I could spend countless words and videos handing out praise to every position group, but for brevity’s sake we’re going to key in on the middle of that UW defense today, where T.J. Edwards continues proving why he’s a threat to leave early for the NFL and Ryan Connelly’s flying around like a madman.
Connelly’s combination of speed and instincts make him a difficult guy to block. The former walk-on leads the team with 55 tackles despite starting just two games this season, many of which have come from either shooting a gap or anticipating what’s about to happen in his area.
Connelly does have a tendency to be a bit out of control when flying into the backfield, which can lead to some missed tackles. We saw that a few times Saturday when Connelly missed sack opportunities on quarterback Nate Stanley.
Even when he does, though, simply getting in the backfield quickly to disrupt the play can lead to good things.
The plays Edwards makes aren’t always quite as noticeable. Outside of the occasional interception, you wouldn’t describe anything Edwards does as flashy.
He’s a beast in the middle of the Badgers’ defense, though. He’s difficult to move out of the way and often makes hard-nosed plays like these.
In the first video, Edwards’ takes an initial step backward but reads run quickly, delivers a hefty blow to the offensive guard coming his way and makes the tackle for a short gain. In the second, he easily rips through a tight end to get to the ball carrier.
Edwards’ ability in coverage is another huge plus to his game. Badgers fans know he’s capable of grabbing interceptions like the one he did against the Hawkeyes, and he’s always someone opposing quarterbacks need to be aware of.
He reads this play below really well before making a diving pass breakup.
Running the ball will almost always be an uphill climb when you combine Edwards and Connelly with the rest of UW’s front seven, and opposing quarterback's margin for error shrinks when trying to work the short middle of the field against linebackers who are solid in coverage.
If there’s one concerning part here, it’s this: Edwards and Connelly played every snap until the final drive with less than two minutes remaining.
That could be, in part, because Iowa held the ball for less than 22 minutes and ran just 46 plays before that final drive. Even so, the decision to play Arrington Farrar zero meaningful snaps isn’t the greatest indication that the Badgers have a ton of faith in a player who’s the next man in at that position until Chris Orr returns.
With Orr out at least one more game and maybe longer, one of UW’s deepest position groups may have exhausted their allotment of injuries for the season.
As long as Edwards and Connelly remain healthy, however, good luck against this front seven.
— Center Tyler Biadasz was fantastic in the first half Saturday before suffering a left leg injury.
While I’m not sure of the reasoning behind it, the Badgers pulled him much more often in this game, and boy, the redshirt freshman sure can move.
I mean, there were even a few plays where he started resembling the second coming of Travis Frederick.
You can probably expect to see more of this when Biadasz returns from injury, whether that’s this week or not.
With the exception of a couple plays, Jason Erdmann did really well when replacing Biadasz. UW opted to continue pulling the center with Erdmann in the game. He doesn’t have quite the same speed as Biadasz, but he proved capable of getting to where he needed on most snaps.
Left tackle Michael Deiter said Monday that Erdmann did a nice job of making calls and organizing the line pre-snap, which was probably more important than anything when he took over at center.
While there is a drop-off from Biadasz to Erdmann, the latter can certainly hold his own out there. Michigan week, however, sure isn’t the ideal time to possibly be without Biadasz.
Here are a few more notes from re-watching Saturday’s game:
— Austin Ramesh played well in his first game back from a head injury and delivered two highlight-reel hits in which he de-cleated Iowa safety Jake Gervase. The first video below was circulating on Twitter earlier this week, but the second may be even better.
— Kendric Pryor led the wide receivers in snaps with 45, per Pro Football Focus. Danny Davis had 41, while A.J. Taylor played just 32.
— Running back Bradrick Shaw looks much healthier than he did a couple weeks ago. He’ll never be as dynamic as Jonathan Taylor, but he’ll likely play a significant role for this offense down the stretch.