No. 24 Wisconsin looks to keep defense humming against Troy
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Avoiding turnovers has been a specialty in Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers' short but impressive career. The sophomore hasn't thrown an interception since Oct. 18, 2014, spanning 29 straight quarters.
The streak will be even more remarkable if Silvers can keep it going on Saturday on the road against No. 24 Wisconsin and its opportunistic defense. The Trojans (1-1) will need a Herculean effort to pull off an upset of the Big Ten's Badgers (1-1).
Sure, Wisconsin has had noticeable hiccups against Alabama in the season opener and Ohio State in last season's Big Ten title game, Troy coach Neal Brown said, ''but if you look at their stats, they're a little overwhelming.''
A dominating defensive performance helped Wisconsin beat Miami (Ohio) 58-0 in its home opener last weekend. The defense had three interceptions, aided in large part by the return of Michael Caputo from a head injury and the addition of two-way player Tanner McEvoy to join Caputo as starting safeties.
The Badgers will get another chance give their young inside linebackers and defensive linemen valuable experience playing the middle game of a three-game set of winnable nonconference home games. It also gives the defense overall experience against another passing offense with an efficient quarterback.
Silvers' interception-free stretch is the longest such current streak in the country. Last season, Silvers set the NCAA record for completion percentage by a freshman (70.5).
Wisconsin linebacker Joe Schobert described Silvers as a smart player who doesn't take too many risks.
''They make you nervous. The pace is fast. They've got athletes at receiver. The quarterback has settled into his role,'' Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. ''They trust him and they depend on him.''
Wisconsin's strength lies in the secondary and at outside linebacker, where Schobert and Vince Biegel form one of the top duos in the Big Ten. Schobert is tied for sixth in the country with three sacks.
Some other things to watch ahead of the first meeting between the schools:
TWO-WAY TANNER: McEvoy played more than 70 snaps in his debut last week as a two-way player. He caught three passes for 29 yards as a receiver and also returned an interception 41 yards while playing safety. It has been such a good start that the former quarterback this week was named the starter at both of his new positions.
TAKING RISKS: The addition of the athletic, 6-foot-6 McEvoy to the secondary gives Wisconsin a security blanket to cover deep balls. That makes it easier for Caputo to creep closer to the line to help with the run, or allow other Badgers to take risks in coverage that they otherwise wouldn't take without McEvoy behind them.
''His range covering passes is ridiculous. It gives everybody ... a solid feeling that the deep end is covered,'' Caputo said.
UP FRONT: Brown would like more consistency out of his offensive line, especially when it comes to communication and playing lower to the ground. That would give them more leverage in holding off defenders, especially if the athletic Schobert and Biegel are rushing off the edge for the Badgers.
''We've got to get a better pad level, we're playing against a defensive front this week that will attack you,'' Brown said.
UP FRONT, PART II: The right side of Wisconsin's offensive line remains a work in progress. Biegel's brother, Hayden Biegel has started at right tackle, with Walker Williams at right guard. Micah Kopoi has also rotated in on the right side. The inconsistency up front has contributed to a sputtering start for Wisconsin's running game.
CARRY ON: Starting tailback Corey Clement's groin injury has also slowed the Badgers' rushing attack, though the offense has shown the promise of a diverse passing game behind improving quarterback Joel Stave.
Troy might be the perfect foe to get the run game going, though, after the Trojans allowed 263 yards on the ground last week to Charleston Southern and 251 in the opener against North Carolina State.
Freelance writer Dennis Semrau in Madison contributed to this report.
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