Schofield provides jolt for Wisconsin defense
October, 15, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After Wednesday's practice, Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield was having a hard time charging his cell phone.
"Aw, man, terrible," Schofield said. "You know phone chargers these days die out real fast."
|David Stluka/Icon SMI|
|Changing positions from linebacker to defensive end has worked out for O'Brien Schofield (50) and the Wisconsin Badgers.|
Fortunately for the Badgers, the same can't be said for Schofield. His battery is fully charged this season, and he provides a major jolt to the Wisconsin defense every time he steps on the field.
After a fairly quiet career, Schofield has been the Big Ten's biggest surprise on defense this fall, not to mention one of the nation's true breakout performers. The senior from Great Lakes, Ill., leads the nation in tackles for loss with 14.5, 2.5 more than any other defender, and leads the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks, 2 more than anyone else. Schofield has recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss in four games and could challenge Tom Burke's amazing single-season school record of 31.5 tackles for loss in 1998.
Not bad for a guy who entered the season with only five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 31 games during his first three seasons.
"Did I expect it? Yes. Did I know it was really going to happen? Didn't really know until we saw the bullets start flying," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's playing as high a level as anybody that I've been around since I've been here at Wisconsin.
"To be leading the nation in tackles for loss, that doesn't just come about by luck. He worked very hard to get there."
The odds have been stacked against Schofield for much of his career. Bielema often tells NFL scouts the story of how Wisconsin signed five linebackers in its 2005 recruiting class.
Two of them, DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, started three seasons for the Badgers before moving on to the NFL. Another, Travis Beckum, switched to tight end and became an All-American before heading to the pros. Elijah Hodge started alongside Levy and Casillas in 2007 before seeing his role diminish. He eventually transferred to Northern Iowa.
The fifth was Schofield.
"We all came in together, so my plans at linebacker here weren't too bright," said Schofield, who played defensive end in high school. "It was very hard to get on the field. So [Bielema] gave me an opportunity to play defensive end. That was something I was accustomed to, and it worked out for me."
At just 248 pounds, Schofield is a smaller end. To combat his size, he made major strides this offseason with his fundamentals, techniques, footwork and overall strength.
Wisconsin's new strength coach, Ben Herbert, brought in a new program this winter that suited Schofield and his fellow defensive linemen, who dominated team competitions in the weight room.
"What we did in the offseason, I can't even explain," Schofield said. "I improved my strike. I just feel so much more explosive. The things we did in the weight room, it definitely got my confidence up. I basically built my own little swagger.
"A lot of people underrate how strong I am, and that works to my advantage."
Schofield set several individual goals for his senior season, including a mark of 14.5 sacks that he still could reach. He didn't think much about tackles for loss totals, but above all, he wanted to be an impact player on defense.
No one would dispute that right now.
"He may be small in nature, but plays a little bit bigger just by how he does things," Bielema said. "He plays with a purpose. Last week [at Ohio State], on his tackles for loss, he threw that offensive player down with a little bit of vengeance.
"He's a guy, whether you coach him or coach against him, he gets a lot of respect just by the way he plays the game."
Schofield has earned the respect of Iowa star left tackle Bryan Bulaga, the man he'll face Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium (ESPN, noon ET).
"O'Brien, he's a fast guy," Bulaga said. "He gets the edge on a lot of tackles. He has quick moves, he's a smart player and he gets to the football."
Schofield saw quite a few max protection schemes last week at Ohio State and expects similar treatment from here on out. But he has no plans to let up.
"I expect to get double-teamed, but if I don't, great," he said. "I'll try to take advantage of as many one-on-ones as possible."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State