If the topic is Vince Biegel, then the first place many people want to go is inside his head.
Biegel, the redshirt sophomore outside linebacker for the University of Wisconsin football team, has always had a distinctively boisterous approach to his craft, but questions really began to swirl this week about his state of mind.
They arose after Biegel put on a frenzied, memorable performance last Saturday in which he had a career-best three quarterback sacks and four tackles for loss during a 34-16 Big Ten Conference victory at Purdue.
All of a sudden, folks fused his manic sack celebrations with his trademark mullet, his hyper-kinetic presence and staccato vocals, and came to wonder the same thing.
“Yes, he’s definitely crazy,” senior inside linebacker Derek Landisch confirmed with a straight face.
“Good crazy,” junior strong safety Michael Caputo said, smiling.
UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda sang from the same hymnal and, with a small, knowing grin, explained why that’s a very good thing.
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“I think it rubs off on our guys in a positive manner,” he said of Biegel’s energy. “I think they look to him to get big plays. They look to him to bring some juice out on the field. It’s a much different huddle than what we’ve had.”
Even Biegel feeds the notion of an occasionally demented beast.
“I would say it’s kind of controlled craziness,” he said. “Maybe earlier in my career it wasn’t as controlled, but (with) the reps and the more experience I’ve gotten, I’ve kind of been able to kind of control my aggression.”
But crazy is in the eye of the beholder.
UW senior nose tackle Warren Herring, for one, refuses to put Biegel in that category. He said the fact Biegel puts “115 percent effort” into everything he does on the football field — in practice and games — can be interpreted in another way.
“He’s a great leader,” Herring said. “He’s going to be a great leader for years to come.”
A season after being used mainly as a third-down pass rusher off the edge, Biegel has become an every-down force for the 22nd-ranked Badgers heading into their duel with 11th-ranked Nebraska today at Camp Randall Stadium.
Startlingly quick and explosive for a guy listed at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, Biegel leads UW with 6½ sacks and shares the lead with 12 TFLs. He also has three quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
The Badgers rank No. 1 nationally in total defense at 251.1 yards allowed per game, a development tied in part to Biegel’s growing assertiveness in the scheme. After recording 14 tackles with 2 for loss through the first four games, he has 25 tackles and 10 TFLs over the past five.
UW coach Gary Andersen, who oversees Biegel’s position group, said that trend is an indication that the game is slowing down for Biegel, which in turn allows him to play at a faster clip.
“When he becomes a reactor instead of thinking, he’s a step faster,” Andersen said. “And that’s how Vinnie’s been the last couple weeks.”
Biegel, a human ecology major from Wisconsin Rapids who was an Academic All-Big Ten selection last season, is becoming a student of the game. He has become better at picking up subtle keys — an offensive tackle’s stance, for example — that tip him off to what play an opponent might be running.
Aranda said that’s huge in mixed down situations — it could be run or pass — because Biegel is able to have a disruptive presence in the opposing backfield even though a designed blitz hasn’t been called.
“It’s slowing down to where he’s able to see the little indicators and play fast,” Aranda said.
“Just getting comfortable,” Biegel explained, “and understanding my role in the scheme.”
Two of the most disruptive defensive forces in Badgers history are Tarek Saleh, the career leader in TFLs with 58 and sacks with 33, and Tom Burke, who owns the single-season standard in those two categories with 31 and 22, respectively.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached Saleh (1993-96) and Burke (1995-98), said Biegel is a mix of those two former first-team All-Americans.
“He’s wound tight just like both of them,” he said. “That’s a pretty good comparison.”
Biegel has some knowing resources in offensive line play in Andersen, who was a center at Utah, and younger brother Hayden, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle for the Badgers.
“He’s working against offensive tackles all the time,” Hayden said. “I can always give him some good advice about something that’s hard to stop, from speed rush to bull (rush) to spin.
“He also gives me tips, too, so we help each other out.”
The Biegels got their football pedigree mainly from their father, Rocky, who was a linebacker and wrestler at Brigham Young from 1988-92. Vince said his streak of perceived craziness dates back to “the living room at the Biegel household.”
Now the brothers live together, and Hayden wants people to know his brother isn’t always unhinged.
“A lot of people see Vince as a high-tense, non-stop, all-the-time, go-go-go guy, but he’s a total different guy off the field,” Hayden said.
“You see the crazy hairdo at first, but he’s down-to-earth and a super-nice guy. He’s really religious — he goes to church every Sunday — and he always looks out after me.
“He’s a really good brother.”