Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It’s better late than never for Badgers’ duo

Loudermilk, Rand have boosted UW’s defense

- Jeff Potrykus

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 figured to join nose

tackle Olive Sagapolu to form UW's No. 1 line in '18.

That plan never came to fruition because Rand suffered 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 five games aren't impressive, their presence has given Leonhard and defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield 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 offensive 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 passefficiency 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 filled in for injured starter Bryson Williams (knee), who has missed the last four games but is expected to play this week.

Rand (five 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 five 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 five 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 offensive 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 five 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 field 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.”

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