MADISON, Wisconsin — Michael Caputo gets the tackles for No. 19 Wisconsin — and makes sure to dish out the credit.
With the linebackers taking up blockers in front of him, the junior safety can swoop in for hits.
Three games into the season and the Wisconsin defense is taking positive steps forward with Big Ten play looming.
"Within the scheme of things, if everyone does the right job, it's all going to wind back to someone to make a play," Caputo said.
There is just one more nonconference game, against South Florida on Saturday. For the most part, the defense has held up well, especially considering that the team has been playing without top defensive lineman Warren Herring.
Second-year coach Gary Andersen has to replace the entire front seven coming into the season. Most of the new starters, including Herring, did play some last season, though the Badgers moved to a bit of lighter, swifter look with an emphasis on creating more big plays.
Wisconsin (2-1) has produced five turnovers in three games, roughly middle of the pack early on in the Big Ten. But the Badgers were able to capitalize on two turnovers last week in a 68-17 victory over Bowling Green, leading to Melvin Gordon's touchdown runs.
Those momentum shifts were understandably lost in the spotlight that followed Gordon after the tailback's career-best outing of 253 yards rushing and five scores. But they are important in helping Wisconsin establish a defensive identity.
"When you can give offenses multiple looks, different looks, you know they don't know where the pressure's coming from or if we're dropping back into coverage," linebacker Derek Landisch said. "I think that's what can cause takeaways, what can cause big plays."
Landisch had a breakout performance against the Falcons with two sacks and a tipped pass that led to an interception in the end zone by safety Lubern Figaro.
"Derek Landisch was unbelievably good in that game. He was blitzing, he was very good," Andersen said. "It shows up on film, his communication and allowing the kids to get into position for success. Pre-snap awareness was great."
Perhaps the only positive with losing Herring, who is out at least another couple weeks with a knee injury, was that it helped open up more playing time for young linemen like freshmen Chikwe Obasih and Alec James.
The toughest test of the year so far came in the season opener against LSU, when the defense played relatively well until the second half after losing Herring and another senior defensive lineman, Konrad Zagzebski, to injury.
There will be growing pains, for sure, as the season progresses. But more experienced Badgers like Landisch and Caputo have stepped up to lead the way in the early going.
Zagzebski has returned to anchor the front. Caputo has a team-high 21 tackles, just one more than linebacker Marcus Trotter. Landisch has 17 tackles, including four for losses.
Of the four players, only Caputo was a regular starter last year.
"I don't want to say we exceeded what I thought we could do, because my expectations are pretty high," Caputo said.
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