Ikegwuonu, Chapman beneficiaries of total team effort in laugher versus border rival

first_imgOne yard. Over a nearly 20-minute stretch from the end of the first quarter to midway in the third, that is the total yardage the Minnesota offense was able to pick up. During that stretch Wisconsin put up 21 points and turned a competitive game into laugher.”That is a good stretch,” said UW head coach Bret Bielema.”We couldn’t convert a third down, and we just couldn’t move the ball,” said Minnesota head coach Glen Mason. “There were a few defensive series where we had Wisconsin against the wall on a third-and-long situation, and our defense couldn’t make a stop.”But what went into such a dominant stretch? Teamwork. Jack Ikegwuonu had a banner day at cornerback, Jason Chapman had maybe the best game of his career at defensive tackle, and the Badger offense again put on a fireworks show. Each element influenced the others, leading to a big victory over the Gophers. Ikegwuonu opened and closed the door on Minnesota, scoring on a 50-yard fumble recovery (forced by Chapman) only 95 seconds into the contest and then knocking away what would’ve been a touchdown in what was effectively the final play of the game. Everywhere in between, the sophomore cornerback was dominant, ending the day with two tackles, three pass break-ups and the aforementioned touchdown. Jack caught my eye when he first came here as a freshman,” Bielema said. “I thought that he was a player that potentially, because of his physically abilities, could be a good cover corner for us.”The 2006 Gopher team is just as reliant on their aerial attack as past Minnesota squads have been on the running game, with quarterback Bryan Cupito ranking near the top in virtually all the Big Ten passing statistics. However, the Wisconsin pass defense, ranked No. 3 in the country heading into Saturday’s contest and anchored by Ikegwuonu, shut down the talented signal-caller, limiting him to merely 94 passing yards. Minnesota challenged Ikegwuonu consistently on Saturday, which is unusual considering how most teams have shied away from throwing toward him, preferring instead to take their chances against fellow sophomore corner Allen Langford when trying to get the ball to playmaking receivers. The increased workload caught Ikegwuonu off guard at first, but he relished the challenge. “I really think they really wanted to get the ball to 84 (Logan Payne),” Ikegwuonu said. “It was exciting, it was different. I was asking for some more water today. It’s exciting to be a corner and get challenged.”Besides tight coverage, the other key factor in the impressive UW passing defense has been a steady pass rush. Wisconsin trapped Cupito on dropbacks three times Saturday to raise their sack total to 16 on the season, with 10 of those coming in the past four games. The consistent rush left Cupito in a constant state of hurry. “When the D-line is getting that much pressure on the quarterback it really allows us as defensive backs to sit on the short routes,” Ikegwuonu said. “As long as the D-line keeps getting pressure I’m going to be a happy man — I’m going to be smiling.”Chapman especially was a pest to Cupito, as the big sophomore picked up two sacks and forced the fumble on the initial drive that allowed Ikegwuonu to reach paydirt. “I was just trying to crush him, really,” Chapman said of the fumble he forced when he obliterated Minnesota tailback Amir Pinnix from behind. In his second season Chapman is fast becoming a playmaker for the Badgers, with a knack for being a disruptive force in the backfield. “Of all the defensive linemen I’ve been around, he has an incredible first step, which allows him to play with a little bit more suddenness than other defensive linemen,” Bielema said. “The sky is the limit for him and he makes my job easier, so I think he deserves just as much credit as I do,” Ikegwuonu said.However, Chapman and the UW defensive line’s job would be much more difficult if not for the high-octane offense. Wisconsin jumped out to a quick three-score lead in the first half, already forcing the Gophers to throw the ball to catch up. That in turn allowed Chapman and Co. to rush upfield relentlessly without having to worry as much about the pass. “I love that feeling, pinning your ears back and just going,” Chapman said. “That’s always fun, knowing when they have to throw,” junior tackle Nick Hayden said. “It was great just knowing that they had to throw, and we just got in the backfield knowing that they had to throw every time.”The Badgers have oft been described by their coach as a fun bunch who understand what they have to do, and now the players are beginning to echo that sentiment, especially after how much each unit relied on the next to contribute to the blowout Saturday. “When you can make all those plays it’s good to realize how much you’re doing for your team,” Ikegwuonu said. “It really makes you feel good.”last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *