De­fense re­ly­ing on ex­e­cu­tion, not ad­just­ments

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - JEFF POTRYKUS

MADI­SON – The num­bers sug­gest Jim Leon­hard has gone into the locker room at half­time of each of Wis­con­sin’s five games, shred­ded the de­fen­sive game plan and fash­ioned a new one on his iPad.

Leon­hard, in his first sea­son as UW’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, in­sists that isn’t close to re­al­ity.

“A lot of it is just fo­cus­ing on the ex­e­cu­tion,” Leon­hard said when asked about what half­time ad­just­ments are made each week. “At times there are some schematic things. Not any­thing new that you’re draw­ing up in the dirt.

“But the ma­jor­ity is just ex­e­cu­tion. It’s con­firm­ing with the guys what we’re see­ing. We saw this all week. It’s the same.

“Just giv­ing them the con­fi­dence and trust to go out there and play. A lot of times it is more of an at­ti­tude ad­just­ment than it is schematic.”

What­ever ad­vice has been shared dur­ing those half­time talks is work­ing as No. 6 UW (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) pre­pares to host

Pur­due (3-2, 1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Satur­day. Con­sider the num­bers: Op­po­nents are av­er­ag­ing 10 points and 178.6 yards in the first half. That in­cludes 71.8 yards rush­ing and 106.8 pass­ing.

Op­po­nents are av­er­ag­ing 4.2 points and 99.2 yards in the sec­ond half. That in­cludes 13.6 yards rush­ing and 85.6 pass­ing.

UW has outscored its foes in the sec­ond half, 119-21. Seven of those 21 points came on an in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down by Ne­braska. UW's de­fense has outscored op­po­nents in the fi­nal quar­ter by a com­bined 18-14.

Joe Fer­gu­son and Na­trell Jamer­son re­turned in­ter­cep­tions for touch­downs and the de­fense recorded safeties against BYU and North­west­ern.

“We just know that some­times we aren’t play­ing to our ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” se­nior out­side line­backer Gar­ret Doo­ley said, re­fer­ring to play in the open­ing half. “I just think that when we come out we have a fire in our hearts to prove who we re­ally are.”

North­west­ern is the only team that has scored more points in the sec­ond half than in the first against UW. The Wild­cats scored 14 of their 24 points in the fi­nal quar­ter — af­ter UW built a 31-10 lead.

The Ne­braska game bet­ter than any other il­lus­trates the im­prove­ment by UW’s de­fense af­ter half­time.

In the first half Ne­braska ran 42 plays, rolled up 313 to­tal yards, con­verted 5 of 10 third­down chances and held the ball for 14 min­utes 52 sec­onds. De­spite those num­bers, UW held a 17-10 lead. In the sec­ond half Ne­braska ran 19 plays for only 68 yards, con­verted 2 of 5 third-down chances and held the ball for just 8:22.

Missed tack­les and fun­da­men­tal break­downs re­sulted in too many rush­ing yards in the first half and a blown cov­er­age led to an 80yard touch­down pass.

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral play­ers, Leon­hard and the other de­fen­sive as­sis­tants em­pha­sized the orig­i­nal game plan and fun­da­men­tals.

“That time at half­time is so cru­cial,” red­shirt ju­nior in­side line­backer T.J. Ed­wards said, “just for play­ers to give feed­back to coaches and for the coaches to give feed­back to us. The big­gest thing is just to get ev­ery­one back on track.

“Satur­day the big­gest thing was just mak­ing the plays we needed to make, the plays that we make ev­ery day. Just go out there and ex­e­cute and I think we started to do that.”

Red­shirt ju­nior D’Cota Dixon, still ran­kled by the blown cov­er­age on the 80yard touch­down pass, loves the sec­ond-half num­bers but stressed the first-half num­bers have to im­prove.

“It is more a tone ad­just­ment, an at­ti­tude ad­just­ment,” Dixon said of the half­time dis­cus­sions. “There are cer­tain things we tweak a lit­tle bit but the main thing is like a re­al­ity check. Guys try to lock in just a lit­tle bit more.

“We need to do that the whole game. I don’t think we’ve done that yet. And we’re go­ing to play a team that you’re not go­ing to be able to turn that switch on. It could be this week. We’ll find out.”

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