Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Both Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch used the same word when describing their defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda.
Given what the Wisconsin defense has been able to accomplish thus far in 2014, it’s pretty hard to argue with that assessment.
After losing several key players on defense following the conclusion of the 2013 season, including their entire starting front seven, many were expecting Aranda’s unit to be an area of weakness for the Badgers this year.
Instead, the defense is peaking at the most crucial point of the season and has been the driving force behind Wisconsin’s current three-game winning streak, while Aranda is gaining greater recognition as a result of his unit’s success.
The UW defense has been stellar in 2014, ranking at or near the top of the FBS in several statistical categories. The Badgers entered this week ranked first in total defense (253.8 yards per game), third in scoring defense (14.1 points per game), third in passing defense (150.9 yards per game) and 11th in rushing defense (102.9 yards per game). True, the Badgers have only faced one team who ranks in the Top 40 in total offense (Bowling Green), but their success is still remarkable given how much turnover the team endured in the offseason.
“(Aranda) is a mastermind; it’s unbelievable how he can dissect film,” said Trotter, a redshirt senior linebacker. “Whatever he tells us to do, we buy into the system.”
Trotter has emerged as one of the key contributors for the Badgers this year, though the defense is thriving thanks to contributions from just about everybody, rather than have a handful of individuals carry the team. Losing the likes of Chris Borland, Beau Allen and Dezmen Southward left a substantial void for Wisconsin, but the defense has filled it through this tremendous collective effort.
Considering what his unit has been able to do this year, there’s no doubt that Aranda will garner plenty of consideration when it comes time to hand out the Broyles Award, given the country’s to assistant coach, at the end of the season.
Aranda, who served as Hawaii’s defensive coordinator under Greg McMackin, was previously nominated for the Broyles Award in 2012, his first season as the defensive coordinator at Utah State.
“Dave’s a great organizer, Dave’s a great teacher, just like the rest of the guys are (on his staff),” said Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, who has had Aranda as his defensive coordinator for the last three seasons. “He’s proved year in and year out since I’ve been able to have him on my staff, and I’m lucky to have him, that he’s a quality coordinator.”
Despite all the praise, Aranda has been quick to deflect the credit to his players and assistant coaches.
“The credit, in my mind, goes to the kids and the coaches,” Aranda said. “A lot of attention, I know, has been on me, but I really feel that (the coaches) have been a big part of the success we’ve had.”
“But anytime you look at any type of success on either side of the ball, you first look at the kids.”
With nose guard Warren Herring’s return from a right ankle injury two weeks ago, the Badgers finally were almost completely healthy on defense, and they’ve shown what they’re capable of when at full strength.
Wisconsin has allowed just seven points the past two weeks against Maryland and Rutgers, with the lone touchdown being scored by the Terrapins in garbage time against mostly backups.
After shutting out the Scarlet Knights this past weekend, Athlon Sports even named Aranda as its Coordinator of the Week.
And while his players have been excellent these last couple of weeks, Aranda knows that they still have to be ready to go each and every game. Just last season, the Badgers suffered an embarrassing home loss at the hands of Penn State in their regular-season finale.
“In the Penn State game, I did not get the guys prepared to play,” Aranda said. “We didn’t practice well that week and we didn’t play well that game.”
It’s a lesson he hopes serves both him and his players well as they prepare for this final four-game stretch with the Big Ten West title still hanging in the balance.
If the defense continues to play at this high of a level, and especially if Wisconsin captures the division crown, the Broyles Award committee will have an awfully tough time finding a coordinator with a stronger case for the honor than Dave Aranda’s.