Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 9/19/12
MADISON, Wis. It's not a stretch to suggest the measuring stick for any great defense can be found in its ability to force turnovers. Causing momentum-swinging mistakes lead to points and quickly flip a game on its side. At Wisconsin, creating turnovers has been a staple of the team's success in recent seasons. Over the past two years, the Badgers have ranked among the national leaders, forcing 49 turnovers during that span.But this season, something odd has taken place. Wisconsin is the only FBS team to have played three games and not forced a single turnover. Buffalo and Southern Mississippi also haven't generated any turnovers, but those teams have played just twice.Time to panic in Madtown? Players and coaches say hardly."Last year we were in the same situation at this time of the season," Badgers cornerback Devin Smith said. "I think the time will come and the turnovers will come if we keep doing our job and keep doing our responsibilities and not trying to cover other people."Through three games a year ago, the Badgers had forced just one turnover. They went on to tally 25 more over the next 11 games and reached the Rose Bowl.Wisconsin co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge attributes the early-season struggles to the unknowns of playing opponents with which players and coaches aren't particularly familiar. "Honestly, now you're starting to get into where you have in-season games to evaluate these guys," Partridge said. "You're defending so much in the first couple games because you're looking back at 11 games from a year ago. Now you zero in, your gameplan is a little bit simpler because you're not defending ghosts."I think that gives guys a chance to play a little faster, get there maybe a fraction of a second earlier, get that ball knocked out or make that pick."This season, Wisconsin has turned the ball over three times on offense and ranks tied for 94th nationally in turnover margin at minus-three. Over the past two seasons combined, the Badgers were plus-30 in that category.The inability to register any turnovers defensively is not for lack of effort. Wisconsin has forced three fumbles but hasn't been able to recover any of them thus far.Badgers defensive end Brendan Kelly said members of the entire defense work in practice on a drill called "CPR," an acronym for Club, Punch, Rip. The first man wraps up the ball carrier, and the second attempts to dislodge the ball by any legal means available."They don't blow the whistle until the ball is out," Kelly said. "Even if you've got him wrapped up, you've got to get the ball out. I'm sure the scout team running backs love that. They get battered and bruised a little bit because of it, but it's all part of the process."Linebacker Mike Taylor noted that creating turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the team this week as it prepares for its final non-conference game Saturday against UTEP, which has turned the ball over just once this season."It'll come," he said. "We can't force it. We can't just go for the football and not tackle. We've got to tackle and it'll take care of itself."Despite Wisconsin's turnover bagel, the Badgers' defense has been largely responsible for keeping them in the past two games. Wisconsin is allowing just 15.0 points per game, which ranks 27th in the nation. The offense, meanwhile, has struggled monumentally, averaging just 16.3 points per game. As a result, the Badgers are 2-1 and lost two weeks ago to Oregon State their first regular-season non-conference loss since 2003.A year ago, the team didn't have to worry about producing points. While the defense surrendered 19.0 points per game, the offense established record-setting numbers by averaging 44.1 points."Last year, we really didn't even have to play defense with how good our offense was," Taylor said. "These first three games, you feel it on your shoulders a little bit more. You embrace that. It makes it a little more fun out there knowing that it's on you being able to stop them and win the game. It's a good feeling."It will be an even better feeling when the Badgers can force some turnovers and perhaps provide more opportunities for a point-starved offense.Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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