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T.J. Edwards photo

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) celebrates his return of an interception for a touchdown during the first quarter of a game against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

University of Wisconsin cornerback Derrick Tindal doesn’t focus solely on himself when watching film of games this season.

That’s not always because he needs to watch other areas of the field or learn responsibilities of other defensive players positioned alongside him.

Sometimes, he simply enjoys it.

“When I look at film, I don’t just watch our DBs or just watch myself,” Tindal said. “I like to watch our linebackers and D-line. Every time I watch film, I’m just amazed at what I see. ... I’ve been telling (the media) since Day 1, I feel like we’ve got the best defense in the nation.”

If the third-ranked Badgers play like they have all season against No. 8 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game tonight, the rest of the country will likely begin agreeing with Tindal.

UW allows 236.9 yards per game, the least by any team in the country since Alabama in 2011. Opponents have scored 1.25 touchdowns per contest against the Badgers, the lowest rate against any FBS team since Notre Dame in 2012, and that even includes three defensive touchdowns that occurred with UW’s defense on the sideline.

The Badgers surrender an average of 80.5 rushing yards, nearly 10 less than any other team in the nation. They also lead all FBS teams in red-zone touchdown percentage at 30 percent. There’s a larger percentage gap between UW and the third-ranked team in that category than the difference between Nos. 3 and 45.

The Badgers also rank second nationally in the following categories: scoring defense, passing defense, least 20-plus yard plays allowed, passes defended and fewest opponent first downs.

It’s not difficult to explain why 12 UW defensive players, including all 11 who started last week in a shutout of Minnesota, earned All-Big Ten Conference honors this week.

“We’ve got great personnel and a defense who truly loves to play together and play team football,” inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “No one’s trying to do anything outside of their cylinder. Everyone’s just doing their job, and I think that’s when we’re at our best.”

UW’s defense reached another level this season, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard attributes much of it to experience.

The defensive end and outside linebacker groups are chock-full of seniors, and multi-year starters exist at every level of its defense.

“Anytime you have experienced players, you’d like to think they take that next step and become more confident,” Leonhard said. “They know the scheme. They understood that. They understand how offenses try to attack us. That has given them a lot of confidence and is allowing them to play really fast right now.

“You just see the number of playmakers we have. That comes from that confidence. It comes from the experience.”

The caveat of it all rests on the offenses UW has consistently shut down.

The Badgers have yet to face a Power Five conference team among the top 50 nationally in total offense, and half of their opponents this season currently rank outside the top 100 FBS teams in that category.

“People are always talking about how we haven’t played great offenses,” Tindal said, “but I’ve turned on the film and watched these same offenses that we’ve played destroy some people.”

Tindal didn’t specify any teams, but Iowa stands as the most notable example. One week after the Hawkeyes scored 55 points against Ohio State, the Badgers held them to just 66 total yards — the second-fewest UW has allowed in the modern era (since 1946).

The Badgers now get to prove themselves against the Buckeyes, who bring one of the best offenses in the country to Indianapolis. How they perform in that game could determine the legacy of a defense that’s making the case to be an all-time great unit.

Tindal, however, said UW doesn’t listen to outside opinions. The Badgers are looking through a narrow lens that only focuses on the current week, and they aren’t giving themselves any reason to expect anything other than business as usual tonight.

“We never want to feel too high about ourselves, but we’re never going to feel too low,” Tindal said. “We know we’re great players, and we’re going to keep that hard-work mentality.”


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