December 8, 2009

Maragos, defense carry momentum into bowl

MADISON - Leading into the Hawaii game, the Wisconsin secondary was struggling. Out of the three previous games, UW had allowed an opposing 300-yard passer twice. At Hawaii, though, the secondary played well and limited a historically efficient passing attack to only 10 points.

Now, with the regular season in the books and the Badgers looking forward to a Champs Sports Bowl date with Miami, caught up with senior free safety Chris Maragos to discuss what was in Hawaii and the upcoming bowl game.

The following is a question and answer with the senior free safety:

What are your lasting memories from last year's game (Champs Sports Bowl)?

Maragos: What happened is what everybody thought was going to happen. I think that was my impression and that was my lasting memory. Everybody thought this was going to be the biggest blowout of the bowls. Everybody thought we weren't going to be able to hang with them. That just went out there and proved everybody right. It's really kind of upsetting about that.

At Hawaii, how much of a benefit was the pressure your front four got for you guys in the back end?

Maragos: It was huge. I think it was real good because one hand washed the other. We had tight coverage and gave those guys time to hit the quarterback. The quarterback got flustered and when their guy was open the defensive line was getting a lot of pressure. We had some change up calls that we were doing that were really key. It was fun to watch.

It was fun to watch the film and see those guys get pressure. They were smacking that quarterback all game and making them second guess. That obviously helped us out in coverage, too. He wasn't as quick with the ball as he normally is. It really helped us out.

Would you assume that is going to be part of the formula again when you face Miami?

Maragos: Hopefully. Anytime you can have tight coverage and the defensive line is getting sacks and hitting the quarterback and make him flustered....anytime the defensive line is getting a lot of pressure and helping you out on the back end, obviously that's the formula you want for any game.

Hopefully that holds true. Our front seven is great. Those guys are assignment sound. The guys play hard, they play tough and there's a lot of athleticism there. We're going to need to play a complete game against Miami if we want to win.

You mentioned what people thought might happen last year against Florida State did happen. What do you think people are expecting this time? Not within the team, but outside?

Maragos: Within the team we feel like we can go out and compete. Outside the team, everybody is going to say, 'Rematch from last year. Okay, they've got good skill receivers, how are they going to match up against our corners? They got a good running back. We haven't seen a guy with this much speed for our run defense.' This, that and the next thing.

Obviously Miami is a good football team and again, we're going to need to play a complete game. Don't get it wrong. We're going to need to play lights out to beat a team like that.

Nick Toon said he was surprised. What did you think when you found out about the bowl destination and all that? Were you surprised?

Maragos: Yeah, we heard if we were going to win it was probably going to be the Outback Bowl and we were the best team for that and the situation for it. When we heard Champs we were kind of surprised about that. Even when we heard Miami, too, we were pretty surprised about that, that Miami, that good of a team, would be sitting there.

It's more about the quality opponent that you're playing in the bowl game rather than what the name of the bowl is. We've got a great team in Miami that we're going to play. They're a tough football team, a lot of speed and a lot of athleticism as you guys know. Again, we're going to need to play a complete game. Don't get it wrong.

Are you more excited to play a team like Miami than a team like Auburn? No disrespect to Auburn, but Miami has had clearly a better year?

Maragos: Anytime you can rebound after last season's bowl game, obviously a team with a lot of speed and a lot of athleticism, this is a redemption year for us. To go out and play a team that good, that fast and that has that good of skill positions, for us, we want to go out and play. We want to redeem ourselves. We want to prove we can play with teams like this that aren't our style of team to play against.

If we go out there and execute and do what we need to do and apply pressure and make sure we're playing a complete game, I think it can be good for us.

Would you say you need to win the game to put a cap on the season?

Maragos: I think we've done a lot with this season and obviously it's going to put in everybody else's eyes and minds, the outside world, their going to say, 'Okay, they beat a quality opponent like Miami, somebody they quote, unquote, shouldn't beat and that was just a great season.'

But for us, as I look at the season, we've done a lot of stuff. We've put the program in a position where it needs to be. Guys are stepping up into leadership roles underneath the seniors that are going to come up and do good things. I think for us, we've had a great season. Obviously this would cap it off and make it even better. I really feel we've done a lot of great things already.

Going back to the Hawaii game, was that the most complete game you guys have played all year?

Maragos: It was pretty good. We had great kickoff returns and we were holding them on kickoff from a special teams standpoint. From a defensive standpoint we were shutting down the pass attack which we knew they were going to come out and throw the ball a lot. Our defensive line was adding a lot of pressure. Anytime your offense puts up over 50 points, that's huge.

I would definitely say that is one of the games that we definitely put it all together.

Is that something you guys needed to have happen moving into the bowl season, especially knowing you are going to go against a tough opponent no matter where you wound up?

Maragos: I think it gives you a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. Obviously playing a passing team like Hawaii and when you're going to play a team like Miami that's going to throw the ball around and is going to be athletic, it shows that we can do it. We can play.

Even for our offense, to be able to go out there and put up that many points. To go into a bowl season kind of on a roll with some momentum is huge for us. We're going to take the moment and we're going to run with it. We're going to go out here and put some good practices together and give Miami our best shot.

You talked about last year's bowl game a little bit, but did it feel like a hostile, or maybe road environment, with all the Florida State fans in there?

Maragos: You know, it was. Those fans were jacked up. Obviously we're playing their home state. That's like if somebody came here to play us in Milwaukee or something. You know, it's going to be a similar game to that. There's going to be a lot of Miami fans and they're going to be ready to play.

We're going to need, don't get it wrong, the best game that we've played all year to beat them.

In terms of fan support, do you expect there to be any kind of drop off going back to Orlando again?

Maragos: Obviously everybody is saying we're going back to Florida or we're going back to Orlando. Last time I checked it was snowing outside. So 80 degrees is a lot better seems a lot better than it does here, right?

Wherever it is, the same venue, but we're playing a different team than we ever have before. Obviously the excitement of the season, there's a lot to be excited about being a Badger. Hopefully the fans are excited. We're going to go out there and we promise to do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win. Obviously they've been supportive all year and we appreciate that a lot.

You guys don't practice all week until Friday?

Maragos: Yeah, not until Friday.

How do you keep yourself fresh?

Maragos: I think for us, we're going to come in and lift on Tuesday and Thursday. We'll go out and we'll make sure that we're keeping our bodies revved up. For me, I was already watching film today (Monday) and some different things like that. So I think more mentally sharp things right now and then to make sure you're not sluggish getting back out on the field.

They got a good plan for us and they know what they're doing. They've been through numerous amounts of bowl games here and in this program. They'll know what to do.

Were you watching film of Miami?

Maragos: I was watching the Hawaii game. I haven't got the chance to look at Miami, but like I said, they're going to be athletic from what you hear. I'll take their word for it.

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