When USC takes the field for the 2015 Holiday Bowl, they’ll be greeted by Dave Aranda’s Wisconsin Badgers defense, their biggest test to date.
The Badgers have been one of the top defenses in the country since Aranda took the reins in 2013 and this season has been no different.
Here’s a closer look at the Wisconsin defense:
Business in the front, Havoc in the back
If you’ve watched a fair bit of USC football this season, you’ll likely feel at home watching Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense. Albeit in utility, not performance or result.
Like the Trojans, the Badgers rely on a stark contrast in playmaking ability between the defensive line and the linebackers. The down linemen are responsible for procedural gap control, while it’s the linebacker corps that receives the benefits of blitz packages.
Sep 5, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Joe Schobert (58) in game action against the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium. Alabama won 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The starting linebacker quartet of T.J. Edwards, Joe Schobert(pictured), Vince Biegel and Jack Cichy has combined to rack up an incredible 66.2 percent of Wisconsin’s tackles for loss.
So it’s not surprising that the Badgers lead the nation in linebacker havoc rate at 10.1 percent, more than double the national average (4.6 percent). Inversely, the defensive line’s ghastly 1.8 percent havoc rate is second worst in FBS.
But if you’re Aranda, you’ll gladly take it.
Because unlike USC, who boasts a similar discrepency between the linebackers and defensive line, the Badger defense is dividing and conquering for the greater good, and not relying on singular players like Su’a Cravens to lead the way.
Cut the averages in half
The Badgers lead the nation in scoring defense. Their total defense checks in third, rushing defense at fourth, and passing defense at sixth. Lest you fall into the trap of wondering if their Big Ten schedule plays into such impressive national rankings on defese, Wisconsin also ranks third in relative scoring defense.
Holding opponents to 48.7 percent of their regular scoring average, Aranda’s defense trails only Alabama and Ohio State in the ability to limit opposition offenses to a fraction of their normal production.
For USC, which averages 34.9 points per game, 48 percent of their scoring average would mean an expectation of just 17 points on the day. That scoring average is inflated by the opening month of the season when Steve Sarkisian’s offense was producing more points than Clay Helton’s has since his October appointment as the interim, so these Trojans would be expected to score even less if the statistics hold up.
USC’s greatest strength under Helton has been a renewed emphasis on the run game. The emergence of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II as viable threats on the ground has changed the look of the Trojan offense, but their greatest test awaits.
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Wisconsin is elite when it comes to stopping the run.
Since losing to Alabama in the season opener, the Badgers have contained runners to an average of just 85.2 yards per game with an average of 3.19 yards per rush. If you take out the Crimson Tide’s 6.4 yards per carry that average over the proceeding 11 games drops to 2.8.
As much of a home run threat as Jones has proven to be for the Trojans, it will be particularly difficult to generate a game-changing play against the Badgers. They have allowed only 25 runs of ten or more yards, which is the top mark in the country.
What the stats say
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Projected starting lineups: USC football vs. Wisconsin
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