Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
It’s better late than never for Badgers’ duo
Loudermilk, Rand have boosted UW’s defense
MADISON – Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk had grand plans when Wisconsin closed spring practice in 2018.
Loudermilk had showed promise as a reserve defensive end as a redshirt freshman in 2017. Now he was set to open the ’18 season as a starter.
Rand was UW’s No. 2 nose tackle in 2016 and ’17 but moved to end, his more natural position, in the spring of ’18.
Rand and Loudermilk figured to join nose
tackle Olive Sagapolu to form UW's No. 1 line in '18.
That plan never came to fruition because Rand suffered a torn Achilles during summer workouts and missed the
season. Loudermilk missed the opener after undergoing knee surgery late in the spring and missed three more games because of an ugly ankle injury.
UW fans – and foes – are seeing this season what could have been in 2018.
“Obviously, having them back has provided a lot of depth at the position and physicality,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said. “They're big, strong
guys that are willing to play physical for you.
“We're excited to continue to push throughout the course of this year. Throughout the Big Ten schedule you know you need those guys to be good.”
Although their individual statistics through five games aren't impressive, their presence has given Leonhard and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield options they did not have available in 2018.
UW's top three linemen for most of last season were Sagapolu, end Matt Henningsen, a redshirt freshman at the time; and Kayden Lyles, who switched from the offensive line to defense after Rand went down and Loudermilk had to undergo surgery.
“It was great of him to do,” senior outside linebacker Zack Baun said of Lyles, “but it is wonderful to have those guys back. Excited for them and what they bring to this defense.”
UW (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) enters its game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Michigan State (4-2, 2-1) No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and passefficiency defense and No. 2 in rushing defense.
The line has been stout, even though UW has employed a 2-4-5 base more than a 3-4-4. Freshman nose tackle Keeanu Benton has filled in for injured starter Bryson Williams (knee), who has missed the last four games but is expected to play this week.
Rand (five tackles, one quarterback hurry) and Loudermilk (four tackles, four passes broken up and one forced fumble) and Henningsen (two sacks, nine tackles and two fumble recoveries) have helped UW control the line of scrimmage.
That has helped free the linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage on running and passing plays.
Consider that UW's top five tacklers are linebackers. Jack Sanborn leads the way with 28 tackles, followed by Chris Orr (23) and Zack Baun (23), Mike Maskalunas (14) and Leo Chenal (12).
Through five games last season, three of UW's top six tacklers were defensive backs.
“I think they've been able to help tremendously, even though it might not show up on the stat sheet,” Orr said. “As D-linemen, in a scheme like ours, it is kind of like playing on the offensive line. They are such and integral (part) of this defense. They are so important. People have no idea.
“They are eating up blocks so our backers can run free. And even if our backers get picked up you can't account for the safeties.”
UW's ability to limit foes to 1.8 yards per rush has contributed to the Badgers' sparkling third-down defense. Through five games, opposing teams have converted just 16% of their third-down chances (11 of 69).
“What we talk about in the D-line is that it does start up front, with the offense and the defense, being able to set the line of scrimmage,” Loudermilk said. “That can really help the back half. We pride ourselves as a D-line on setting the line of scrimmage, pushing it back.”
Injuries forced the pairing of Loudermilk and Rand to be pushed back by a year. The wait was worth it.
“Awesome,” Rand said. “Whenever I am on the field I am thankful. Because last year it didn't go my way. Now it is just fun to play with everyone. It is a great opportunity.”