Connect with us


Wisconsin Football Bye Week Confidence Meter: Defense



Wisconsin Football; Badgers linebackers Darryl Peterson and Maema Njongmeta
Sep 16, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Maema Njongmeta (55) celebrates after a fumble recovery against the Georgia Southern Eagles during the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sporta

The Wisconsin football program has started their 2023 campaign at 3-1 heading into the bye week. It hasn’t been the fairytale start that some Badgers fans were expecting, but there have been several flashes of what this team could be.

When Luke Fickell took over, he brought along his former Cincinnati defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel. Tressel’s crew has had several hiccups in the first few weeks. So, what better time to review each position group and give my confidence meter? 

Let’s dive in.

Wisconsin Football Bye Week Confidence Meter: Defense

Defensive Line: Medium Confidence

Going into the season, Wisconsin faced the task of replicating former UW star Keeanu Benton‘s production. Through four games, it’s safe to say that this group has missed the mark. In fairness, Benton was an absolute animal, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some worrisome performances from this group.

The poor performances in run defense have stuck out like a sore thumb, primarily due to Wisconsin’s defensive line. Of course, missed tackles have also played into the weak run defense, but I’ve been largely unimpressed with the big boys up front. 

I will give some flowers to James Thompson Jr., who has arguably been one of Wisconsin’s premier defenders through four games. He’s registered the highest PFF grade among defensive linemen with a grade of 76.0 while also playing the second most snaps among the group, trailing only Rodas Johnson.

I do have some confidence in this group to clean it up. With all of the dynamic running backs UW is slated to face off against in Big Ten play, they’ll undoubtedly need to. Overall, I will say that I have been unimpressed thus far. I’ll go with a medium confidence grade for the big boys. 

Inside Linebackers: Medium-to-High Confidence

The inside linebacker corps has had its fair share of struggles in the running game, specifically in missed tackles. Some have labeled this group as one of the most disappointing, but I tend to disagree. 

The Badgers legitimately have three starting-caliber linebackers: Jake Chaney, Jordan Turner, and Maema Njongmeta. The only thing that is giving me some pause is the situation with Njongmeta. The junior linebacker played just one snap against Purdue, and Luke Fickell provided a cryptic answer when asked about his role. If he is going to come back into the fold very soon, my confidence will be high.

Put plainly, this group just has too much talent. Believe me, I’m aware of some of the lackluster moments from this corps, but I would place my bets on this group being one of the premier defensive position groups for the rest of the season.

Wisconsin Football Outside Linebackers: Medium Confidence

This group is one I go back and forth on. I’ll start by saying that I have been impressed with Darryl Peterson as of late, who has tallied 16 tackles, 14 pressures, 4.5 TFLs, and two sacks. He’s starting to come alive, and I firmly believe he’ll be a standout pass rusher by the time the season comes to a close. 

That said, Wisconsin’s pass rush as a whole has not been up to snuff. UW has struggled to get penetration and break into the backfield at a consistent level. While I think this is something that can be fixed with time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit concerning.

I want to see more production out of this group, specifically from guys like CJ Goetz and Jeff Pietrowski. It’s hard to me to have a lot of confidence in this group, but that’s not to say I don’t have any, so let’s call it a medium confidence level.

Cornerbacks: Medium-to-High Confidence

The secondary is the one group I’ve had some of the most confidence in, and the cornerbacks are a good portion of that, for the most part. 

Ricardo Hallman wasn’t who I expected to be the biggest standout, but his contributions have been significant. Through four games, Hallman has registered 14 tackles (ten solo), three interceptions, and two passes defended. The sophomore has taken a considerable jump through the first stretch, and he’ll be an exciting player to watch going forward.

Alexander Smith, on the other hand, hasn’t been as impressive to me. I don’t think he’s been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but his output just hasn’t reached my preseason expectations. I do have plenty of confidence in him to turn it around. He’s a very talented kid. 

I hope to see this group continue to thrive as the season goes on. While the Big Ten doesn’t offer a plethora of standout passing attacks, the cornerbacks will be one of the x-factors on this Badgers defense.

Wisconsin Football Safeties: High Confidence

I don’t think there is any other position group I feel as good about as I do with the safeties. 

Hunter Wohler has been an absolute animal leading up to the bye. The Muskego native has registered a team-high 41 tackles, 30 of which were solo, as well as two interceptions, two passes defended, and a sack. With those marks, Wohler is currently 15th in the country in total tackles. There hasn’t been a player more impressive than the junior to start the year, and all signs point to him being the defensive MVP through four games.

I’ve also liked what I’ve seen from Preston Zachman. The sophomore out of Pennsylvania has played the second most snaps out of any safety on the team and has made some noise in those reps, registering 16 tackles and two passes defended. I like what Zachman brings to the team and the future of the position. If he can build off of his pre-bye week performances, this safety room could really be something.

Contact/Follow us @Badger_Notes on Twitter, Subscribe to the BadgerNotes Newsletter here. Also, like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Wisconsin Badgers football news, notes, opinion, and analysis. You can also follow Jake Maier on Twitter @JakeJMaier.

Jake Maier is the managing editor and publisher at He has provided coaching and editorial support to numerous writers in his role, contributing significantly to the platform's growth. His expertise extends to Wisconsin Badgers football, basketball, and recruiting coverage. Jake's previous bylines can be found at Fansided and Wisconsin Sports Heroics.