Linebackers lift defense at No. 14 Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Joe Schobert's patient, soft-spoken personality doesn't quite lend itself to someone playing outside linebacker, a position where many of the best players perform with fire and emotion.

That perfectly describes Vince Biegel, the other outside linebacker at No. 14 Wisconsin. Lately, they have both been making statements with their play.

The surging Badgers (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) head to Iowa on Saturday, when they're hoping to maintain control atop the West Division.

''Both those outside backers (who) are kind of our big play guys right now on the defense, along with (inside linebacker Derek) Landisch, need to make those big plays,'' coach Gary Andersen said.

Don't forget about the other inside linebacker, run-stuffer Marcus Trotter. The linebackers are an integral part of a defense that leads the country in allowing just 244 yards per game. Wisconsin is also third in points allowed (15.3), fifth in rush defense (96.7 yards) and third in pass defense (147.3 yards).

Didn't know? It's kind of hard to outshine what teammate Melvin Gordon is doing on the other side of the ball. The running back had 408 yards last week against Nebraska, setting a major-college record and vaulting his name near the top of candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

Wisconsin is pretty good at stopping the run, too.

Last week, the defense shut down Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah, often with a scheme of two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs.

''Right now in that look, our best people are on the field,'' defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.

The Badgers could be spending more time with more than two defensive linemen on the field on Saturday against the ground-and-pound Hawkeyes.

This does not phase the confident Biegel.

''We'll play anybody, anytime, anywhere,'' he said. ''We can go out there and play with spread teams, but we can also strap up, lock and load and play those big, heavy-run Iowa teams.''

The defense overall has improved since getting Trotter and defensive lineman Warren Herring back from injuries a month ago. It made the defense whole again after going without Herring since the season opener Aug. 30 against LSU.

Herring seems like a classic down lineman who occupies blockers to let the linebackers get the glory.

''His stats aren't noticed because he doesn't get a lot of them. He's taking on double, triple teams inside,'' Schobert said. ''He constantly eats up blocks in the middle.''

Landisch, a senior leader and effective blitzer, is one of the beneficiaries. When a ball carrier breaks through, physical safety Michael Caputo is also there to clean up plays.

The Nebraska game seemed like a coming-out party especially for Schobert, who spent much of his night in the offensive backfield. With 11 tackles, including 2 1/2 for a losses, Schobert was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

Andersen has singled out Schobert's patience as one of his defining traits. Schobert said a high school coach once called him ''Sleepy Joe'' because he never showed any emotion.

''I'm just more relaxed, it helps me react to plays,'' Schobert said. ''Not being frantic, or kind of get in a hurry - that's when you'll make mistakes.''

There haven't been many of them lately on defense for Wisconsin.

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AP freelance writer Tammy Madsen in Madison contributed to this story.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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