MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The way that outside linebacker Leon Jacobs has responded to challenges during his career epitomizes how the Wisconsin defense takes on tough situations.
No excuses, no finger-pointing and rewarding results.
The Badgers are stingy in the red zone. They galvanize after getting forced on to the field by offensive or special teams miscues.
Defense kept Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) undefeated after cleaning up the mistakes in 17-9 win over Purdue. The Badgers, who next host Maryland in a homecoming weekend game, moved up two spots to No. 5 in the AP Top 25 poll released Sunday.
“We were on so many short fields and we held them to nine points, a great job for us,” Jacobs said.
Especially by Jacobs, whose interception with 8:14 left in the game at the Wisconsin 11 turned away another drive in the red zone against the Badgers. The defense held Purdue to just a field goal in four red-zone trips, and Wisconsin has now allowed just five touchdowns in 19 trips inside the 20 by foes.
Jacobs dropped back in coverage and saw safety D’Cota Dixon behind him getting picked by a receiver. Jacobs then decided to step up and cover the receiver Dixon was initially covering.
“He and I both tipped the ball,” Jacobs said. “But I just caught it.”
Jacobs displayed the kind of athleticism that made it easy to move him to other positions earlier in his career.
He came to Wisconsin in 2013 as an outside linebacker but moved to inside linebacker the next two seasons. In 2015, Jacobs made three starts inside before his season ended after four games because of a foot injury.
Jacobs received a medical hardship waiver but moved to fullback in 2016 with the Badgers loaded at linebacker. He then shifted back to inside linebacker early in the regular season after an injury to Chris Orr.
Then it was back to outside linebacker again in spring practice. The opportunity was there with Wisconsin needing to replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, who were both selected in the NFL draft.
Jacobs finally has a home.
“That was really just from communicating,” Dixon said about Jacobs’ interception. “Leon was doing his job, being in the right place at the right time.”
That was the story for the defense all day long. With eight penalties and three turnovers, the offense again had stretches of inconsistency in between productive spurts. A blocked punt recovered by Purdue and returned to the Wisconsin 15 put the Badgers’ defense in another tough spot.
Wisconsin responded by forcing the Boilermakers back 10 yards. They missed a 42-yard field goal.
“The way they were put in some really tough situations … (I) love their energy and most of all I thought they executed and played really good team defense,” coach Paul Chryst said.
The defense also held firm playing without two key players in the second half. Starting injured linebacker T.J. Edwards was ejected for targeting with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, and key defensive end Isiahh Loudermilk left in the first quarter with a left leg injury.
Jacobs embraces the opportunities, however challenging.
“We all love it, we embrace it because want to stop them,” Jacobs said. “Why would you not want to go play more football?”